Review Summary: "It was round about midnight. Hipster town/ Imagine going for a walk"
Weighing in at just over twenty minutes, R.E.M.’s bleakly titled debut EP Chronic Town accomplishes to be both concise and compelling. Despite the albums brevity, Chronic Town was eight months in the making; probably due to the bands evolving in studio experimentation and music production naivety. The EP created R.E.M.’s early trademark mumbling vocals, arpeggio guitars, tumbling bass-lines and choir boy like backing vocals.
The first sounds of Chronic Town arrive with the opening track; Wolves, Lower perfectly encapsulates everything we know about early R.E.M. In a nutshell it is perfect guitar pop rock. However, delving deeper through the mumbling vocals and arpeggio guitars, a real depth of production shines through, providing the album with a more art-rock atmosphere, something bolstered by the undecipherable nature of Stipe’s lyrics, “Wilder, lower wolves/ Here's a house to put/Wolves out the door”.
The sophomore track, and then lead single Gardening at Night continues the winning combination wafer-thin guitar work and melodic bass lines. Gardening at Night offers more panache and substance, creating an atmosphere that manages to be both uplifting and somewhat claustrophobic, it is an intoxicating combination of which would never be replicated again by R.E.M (with the exception of some tracks from their debut album Murmur). Carnival of Sorts, opens, well, you guessed it with an eerie carnival like atmosphere, which bellies the rest of the track as it briskly builds up into an hustling chorus made more compelling by the introduction of Mike Mills legendary backing vocals, their smoothness and clarity polarising Stipe’s gruff vocal style.
The concluding duo of tracks 1,000,000 and Stumble continue where Carnival of Sorts left off by creating well-judged jangle art-rock. While they don’t possess the substance that the previous tracks inherited, 1,000,000 runs along with an immediacy, making it instantly enjoyable, while Stumble feeds off its bouncing bass-line before breaking down into a bizarre tribal interlude.
While the sounds created for Chronic Town set the template for future eighties REM, it also helped to create the template for much of the much ‘genrefied’ indie music heard today. A heady mix of mumbling vocals, tumbling bass lines, tight guitar work (I feel I’m leaving Bill Berry out here….) and ingenious song writing created an intoxicatingly enjoyable debut EP from a band who had outstanding talent right from their genesis.