Review Summary: Hello, I'm sorry, I lost myself.
For a major label debut, Green
is a strange, strange album. It immediately establishes itself as a break from the band’s early work with a set of straightforward (semi-ironic) pop songs and the introduction of mandolin but shares deep DNA with both its IRS predecessors and their subsequent two records. It is at times off-putting, dumb, catchy, beautiful, powerful, and downright annoying. The record is essentially divided in three intermixed sections reflective of where the band was as it jumped to a major label and mainstream radio: the big dumb tongue-in-cheek pop songs, the stadium-ready political rockers, and the acoustic/mandolin ballads. Each of these is flawed, and the diversity of sounds make it difficult to evaluate Green as a record rather than as a collection of tracks of widely
varying quality. However, the record overall is enjoyable, if admittedly more inconsistent than its predecessors.
Major Label™ R.E.M. introduce themselves to the world as a cheeky alt-pop group with the first two tracks and the infamous hit single “Stand.” Opener “Pop Song 89” transcends its somewhat annoying guitar riff with drily self-referential lyrics – “Should we talk about the weather"/Should we talk about the government"” This sentiment combined with the onslaught of major chords establishes right away that the band is not repeating the wall-to-wall righteous political and environmental anger of their preceding two records. “Get Up” is much the same, brightened by harmonies by Mike Mills (clearly emboldened by the major key cheerfulness of these songs. Neither of these songs, both of which are bit dumb but charming overall, reach the depths plumbed by “Stand,” which is easily the most irritating and obvious single the band ever put out. Prior to the song-writing process for Green
, Stipe asked the rest of the band to write material that didn’t sound like R.E.M. While this was ostensibly intended as a challenge, when taken as a set these three songs (all released consecutively as singles) are less an interesting experiment than a partial lobotomy; an ironic wink can only go so far.
preceded a massive stadium tour so huge and exhaustive that the band didn’t return to the stage until 1995, and many of the rock songs on the record reflect that immediate utility. Lead single “Orange Crush” is a classic, combining the fire and fury of Document
’s political tracks with the simplicity of “The One I Love”. “World Leader Pretend” has compelling self-reflective lyrics and a great performance by Stipe, although it lacks the instrumental power that the band's best songs do. Far less effective are the scattered “Turn You Inside-Out,” which sounds as toothless on record as it does bombastic in concert, and in particular the dreary dirge “I Remember California.”
Perhaps the most successful element of the album are the softer tracks, in large part due to the introduction of new instruments into the band’s arsenal. “You are the Everything” is the band’s first attempt at both a mandolin-driven ballad and a nostalgic snapshot, and while these qualities would be later more effectively explored on “Losing My Religion” and “Nightswimming” respectively, Stipe paints an evocative and universally resonant picture: “You're in the backseat laying down, the windows wrap around to sound of the travel and the engine.” However, the song and "Hairshirt" bridge the gap between the band’s early work and those two classics through the use of abstract and jarring language like “drifting off to sleep with your teeth in your mouth;” both songs take a conventional ballad format and add Murmur-style abstract lyricism and beautiful mandolin strumming. Less tolerable is the insipid “The Wrong Child,” which features the worst vocal duet in the band’s catalogue and an outro that brings back Stipe’s bleating belt from the worst parts of Document
often feels like three disparate EPs shuffled into a single album. The eclecticism and accessibility of the record served its purpose in 1989, bringing R.E.M. to mainstream radio, introducing thousands to alternative rock aside from U2, and filling stadiums; thirty years later, however, it doesn't hold up as one of their best. That being said, aside from three poor tracks, the album is still overall quite enjoyable and an important part of the band's discography.