Lifes Rich Pageant



by Pechorin USER (23 Reviews)
January 31st, 2006 | 75 replies

Release Date: 1986 | Tracklist

Living in Athens Georgia, it amazes me to see how few people in the area can name more than two songs from the area's most famous band -- R.E.M. Maybe it's because most of their material released during our time has been subpar. Albums like Up and Reveal just don't have the same appeal that classics like Murmur and Document had. Heck, I wasn't even born yet when the album I'm reviewing was released (Missed it by about a year).

Anyhow, I apologize for digressing there, but my main point is that REM often remains forgotten about by young adults today. Many new musicians scorn it because it's too poppy; many teeny-boppers don't think it's poppy enough. However, the fact remains that R.E.M. essentially defined alternative rock with five classic albums ranging from 1983 to 1987. Life's Rich Pageant is possibly the most solid offering of the pre-major label era of the band. There were no mega-hits, but you could definitely tell that something big was eventually going to come from the southern group.

If you fall into the majority of people my age (less likely, as this is a musician website), R.E.M. has a unique sound. In short, they can be described as jangle-rock. As I stated above, they defined alternative before that label was dumped off on Nirvana and their clones. They had a way to fuse folk and punk music with pop arrangements and accessibility. Their music wouldn't make you think about immortality; they weren't (until 1988's Green, at least) overly political, and their compositions were palatible to the average person.

But why Life's Rich Pageant" What makes this album so special" Well, first off, The musicianship is top-notch. Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Michael Stipe could come up with hooks that would get stuck in your head for days. You could finally understand what Stipe was saying while he was singing without having the dark, creepy tones throughout the album like on Fables of the Reconstruction, released the year before. In short, LRP captured R.E.M. during their late '80's prime. They were serious enough not to be written off as a joke, but still had a sense of fun about them that many fans seem to think has been lost as of late.

And what would a Paul150 review be like without a TxT section" The starting track, Begin the Begin shows the way R.E.M. could blend folk and punk music to write a catchy song that could be stuck in your head for days on end. A simple, yet driving guitar riff perfectly drives along Stipe's newly clarified vocals. The upbeat rock continues on the next track in These Days. Starting at a fervent pace, the urgency in the music and Stipe's lyrics crescendos in every chorus. You can hear Buck's trademark jangle-rock sound during the verses as well. Almost perfect backing vocals match Stipe during the choruses to make a perfect duet of album-opening songs.

Next is what is probably the biggest radio hit from the album, Fall on Me. A welcome change in pace from the urgency of the first two tracks, it's a pretty, yet slightly dark ballad that shows how Stipe has also become quite the lyricist. It also proves that Peter Buck and Mike Mills are some of alt-rock's most underrated backing vocalists. After this number is another slightly sombre song, Cuyahoga, another slow, jangly ballad. It's not one of my favorites, as it seems to drag, but it's still worth a listen or two.

The pace picks back up again with Hyena. It reminds me of some older R.E.M. stuff, as the vocals are probably the hardest to pick up on the album. In short, it's a pretty generic-sounding R.E.M. song that features some decent piano work at parts. After that song is perhaps the only filler track on the album, Underneath the Bunker. It's essentially an instrumental with some Spanish-sounding guitar and some organ in the back. There are some indecipherable vocals towards the end run through some lo-fi effects towards the end. However, though it is filler, it still shows the band's sense of humor, and it acts like a bridge separating the halves of the album.

Up next is another beautiful ballad in the form of Flowers of Guatemala. With some nice keyboards in the background, I think it is one of the best tracks on the album. Top it off with the fact that Buck offers a rare guitar solo, and you have another great track to add to a great album. A fast banjo arpeggio starts I Believe, giving way to the standard '80's Peter Buck guitar arpeggio. It's another upbeat song that fits nicely after a ballad.

What If We Give It Away is another fairly generic-sounding track. It's medium-paced, but it features some incredibly emotional vocals on the chorus and profecient verse instrumentation. Just a Touch is the heaviest song on the album, with a punk guitar riff driving the verses and a sharp, staccato guitar driving the chorus. Some rocking piano and organ adds a lot to this loose rocker that is another of my favorites on the album.

What would an R.E.M. album be without the dark, introspective folk piece" Swan Song H fits the bill perfectly. Dark acoustic guitars drive the song rhythmically while Stipe's distinct voice is the obvious centerpiece of the music. Superman is my favorite off the album, and shows that the band can write a funny piece without it being written off as a total joke. It's a catchy two-chord love song started off with a short sketch about Godzilla. If I'm not mistaken, it was also a minor radio hit, as well.

For what it is, Life's Rich Pageant is an excellent album. It's not full of insane guitar work or extremely introspective lyrics. What it is happens to be a light, poppy, guitar-driven alternative record. If that's what you're looking for, then it is hard to find a better album. LRP is also a great introduction to the 1980's R.E.M. that is far superior to the newer stuff. For general sound and lack af any truly weak tracks (excepting Underneath the Bunker), I feel compelled to give this a 4.5/5.


Great musicianship and writing
Full of strong tracks
Great overall sound


May be too simple or jangly-sounding for some
Many songs sound similar to one another

Recommended Tracks:

Begin the Begin
These Days
Fall on Me
Flowers of Guatemala
Swan Song H

(I'll fix any formatting errors as soon as I find them)

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user ratings (436)

Comments:Add a Comment 
January 31st 2006


Nice review.

I don't really like much of theirs besides Murmur and Automatic for the People. Actually, I haven't heard any of the songs from this album I believe.

January 31st 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

In Time was a collection of singles after 1988 (their major label era). There's a collection of singles released in '87 called Eponymous that you should check out if you want to sample some earlier stuff. It's a great album, though. You should check it out.

January 31st 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

Paul, you have great taste in music. This is an unnoticed and underated gem. Their isn't a bad track and 'Begin the Begin' is probably one of my favorite R.E.M. songs.

Nice review, as usual.

January 31st 2006


Album Rating: 3.0

This album made me mad.

I bought this album but hadn't listened to it all the way through yet. I kept hearing Superman on the radio... it was obviously an R.E.M. song... but I couldn't tell if it was old or new, so I kept looking at the track listings of the albums and could NEVER find that song...

Well low and behold a couple of years later I finally got around to listening to the whole CD at one time and there was Superman, the unlisted track 12.

Thanks alot whoever decided to not list it.

Anyway, I'm more of a "Green" and "Document" fan. Their newer stuff (about half of monster and everything after) is pretty lame.

January 31st 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

Shoot...I forgot to mention that, Lemon. The track-listing on the back is out of order and fails to include Superman and Underneath the Bunker. I'm not sure if it was done on purpose or a mistake that hasn't been rectified for twenty years, but it was annoying at first.

January 31st 2006


Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

I love this album. It's my favorite from them, and I like them all, including the newer ones, which I feel very much belong to Stipe. LRP is just so perfect, though. Clarified lyrics, tighter songs, hooks, whatever. This album just rocks, pure and simple. My favorite song is Cuyahoga. It may very well be my fovorite REM song ever. I just like the lyrics and vivid picture it paints. Great story song, it takes me to another time and place. And the chorus is beautiful. Good solid review, too. I strongly approve.

February 1st 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks, John. I own everything from Chronic Town through Reveal except Up and New Adventures In Hi-Fi. I think that while weaker, their newer stuff is a bit underrated based on the fact that the back catalogue is so good. Anyhow, I appreciate the positive feedback. Expect a review on the underappreciated Reveal soon enough.

February 1st 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

Butch Walker is good, but I think he was better with Marvelous Three.

We can't forget the B-52's, either.

February 1st 2006


This is an OK album. From REM's first 10 years I'd put quite a few albums ahead of it, but it absolutely destroys every album they've made since Automatic For The People.

February 1st 2006


Album Rating: 4.5

[quote=SOP]And the Black Crowes (they're Georgian, right?)[/quote]

I think so, but they're not an Athens band. Come to think of it, I think Butch Walker is the same way -- Georgian, but not from Athens.

And Med -- I agree that there are better albums (I like Reckoning and Document more) out there. This was my favorite of theirs for quite a while, though.

Johnnie Walker
February 1st 2006


Great review of the album that defined a great summer I spent in Athens. Just wanted to note that Superman is a cover song originally written and recorded by The Clique.

January 10th 2007


Album Rating: 5.0

Just a correction: the vocals in "Fall On Me" were courtesy of Michael, Mike and Bill. By the way, this is one of the better harmonies I ever heard since the Beatles! The chorus, with three different lyrics for each singer, is absolute genius.

And the countermelody in a verse (I think it's Bill singing) was actually the original melody!

Nice review!

May 4th 2010


Album Rating: 4.0

this is so good

i gotta get on murmur some time

May 4th 2010


Yeah this rules

July 24th 2010


Album Rating: 4.5

This critic has no idea what he is talking about. First off it is a well known fact that Peter Buck does not sing, Mike Mills and Bill Berry provide the backing vocals. Secondly REM did not write Superman, it was written by a band called "The Clique". Thirdly, while it is very cool to dismiss the work REM has done since 1992's AFTP, that is truly a lazy opinion. People didnt't like Monster or NAIHF because they didnt have the folky dirgy sound of the previous 2 releases, and they razed Up, Reveal & ATS because they don't like established bands to experiment with their sound. Up and particularly Reveal are gorgeous meldings of electronica and adult pop. Unlike U2 REM try to make the music THEY want to make, not what critics think they should. Of course Accelerate was well reviewed as a "return to form", while a terrific record, it sounds nothing like their early work. Once again showing how truly clueless the "rock critics" of the world are.

July 24th 2010


pretty pointless comment considering the review was written 4 years ago

August 6th 2010


Begin the begin is such an amazing song.

October 14th 2010


Album Rating: 4.0

buy the sky and sell the sky and bleed the sky and tell the sky

fall on meee

so so good

January 26th 2011


Album Rating: 3.5

Good album. But it have never really grown on me for some reason.

I do like Begin the Begin.

August 10th 2012


Album Rating: 4.5

Favorite R.E.M. album. The songs are amazing, but what really get's me is how they've managed to push forward with this record, but have still maintained that southern feel which is so typical of early R.E.M.

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