Now that we are leaving the IRS era behind, I decided to make a playlist. It consists of the singles of each album and 2 songs of my choice from each album. REM always picked their own singles, the only time they let the record company interfere was with Up, when they were asked to have Daysleeper be the first single. I don't agree with some of their choices and some of the songs I chose are what I thought should have been singles instead, others are simply personal preference.
- Gardening at Night (from Chronic Town, their debut EP and the epitome of their sound)
- Radio Free Europe (single)
- Talk about the Passion (single)
- 9-9 (a crazy song from Murmur, a bit wild for a single, so I get why they chose Radio Free Europe instead)
- Perfect circle (a beautiful song written by Bill Berry and what should have been the second single from Murmur as Talk about the Passion is a bit boring)
- So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)(single, So. stands for south. "I'm sorry!!!!!")
- (Don't Go Back To) Rockville (the other single, lots of people really like it and it was written, including lyrics, by Mike Mills and no disrespect, but why was this a single? It sounds like a song a 20 year old would write about his girlfriend leaving. Which it is.)
- Harborcoat (This song exists and you guys made Don't Go Back To Rockville a single?!?!)
- Time After Time (Annelise) (I don't know why so many song titles on this album have (). This song is amazingly beautiful and why it wasn't chosen over Rockville is beyond me.)
Fables of the Reconstruction
- Cant Get There from Here (single. A crazy song with a crazy brass section and music video)
- Driver 8 (second single, probably the most radio friendly songs on the album, so I get the choice)
- Wendell Gee (third single)
- Feeling Gravitys Pull (this song is amazing and should have been a single.)
- Green Grow the Rushes (because it is beautiful! Stipe, Mills and Berry harmonizing )
Lifes Rich Pageant
- Fall on Me (single and a showcase REM song)
- Superman (second single. They chose cover song of a pretty unknown sunshine pop band, sung by Mills, who usually does background vocals as single. Either they were trolling the record company or Mills has some leverage over the others. After all, his song Don't Go Back To Rockville also was chosen to be a single for Reckoning.)
- Begin the Begin (the single that should have been)
- Hyena (one of the many good rock songs on the album. I like it more than Begin the Begin because of the crazy piano part, but Begin the Begin would have been the better single, so I put both)
- Flowers of Guatemala (Stipe manages to be very poignant with basically 4-5 sentences)
- The One I Love (single, the song has two really strong hooks, so it makes sense to be a single, I find it a bit meh, though)
- It's the End of the World as We Know It (second single and brilliant)
- Finest Worksong (third single)
- King of Birds (my favourite song from this album, the dulcimer is great and I love Stipes vocals in it)
- Oddfellows Local 151 (this is a grunge as REM can get)
I had only listened to document a few times, so when I listened to it again now, I should have made a reaction video, because some things really surprised me. I might have judged it a bit unfairly, there are a lot of good things on this album (and one musical misstep, I'll talk about below).
Strange is a cover, so maybe not too surprising it is far from REMs usual style. Buck is playing power chords and doing a solo! It is as if they exchanged the guitarist for one song. I was kind of glad when it ended with Micheal and Mike harmonizing at the "duh", "duh" in the end, just for the familiarity
The album is basically a political protest album. REM never wanted to be shoehorned as a political band, but this album consists of 4 explicitly political rock songs and all the other songs deal with imagery of unrest and fire. It is a fitting album to listen to in these times. It is also a good opportunity to talk about the politics of REM.
Not so much the political activism, they are pretty much the usual for a 90s liberal band, supporting the democratic party and then being disappointed when a capitalist president is not going to make the grand systematic changes they were hoping for. There is this really funny video on youtube from the time they and other liberal bands had organised the Tibetan Freedom Concert in '98 and then were told that the president they had helped get elected (Clinton) isn't even going to meet with them. To their credit, their activism never reached the embarrassing heights of U2, mostly involved supporting their local community of Athens, Georgia and they (as far as I know) never committed grand scale tax evasion.
More interesting than their political activism is their internal politics as a band and business. REM is basically a workers cooperative. They do not call themselves this, but they describe themselves as radically democratic, each member sharing equal in income, decision making power and songwriting credits. Their legal entity (a LLC), which takes care of licensing etc is also equally controlled by them and their attorney/manager, meaning that they were always in control of their own business affairs. Peter Buck seemed to have come up with the idea, based on some ultra leftist bands they new in Athens. It seemed to have been a successful model, in 30+ years they never had to fight to keep creative control over their brand, never had any internal legal fights with each other and the only time someone left the band was because he wanted to be a farmer. Well done comrades.
This album is as hard rock and grunge REM can get. The lyrics are even more explicit politically, you can even understand the topic of the songs, which are anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist, especially Welcome to the Occupation and Exhuming McCarthy. It is missing the diversity from Lifes Rich Pageant, but it is the most "rock" REM album of the IRS era and it is understandable that they got a lucrative record deal with Warner after this album (can you hear the cries of "sell out" in the distance?). Except for King of Birds (my favourite song from the album!) it is entirely up or mid tempo. This album includes The One I Love and It's the end of the World as we know it. Both firmly established in the public consciousness now, even though one is chronically misunderstood and the other one is unintelligible and the ultimate karaoke challenge.
It also has a few songs which divert so far from the usual REM jangly guitar and into power chords (!), that I had to check a few times, if youtube had autoplayed away from the album. Strange (a cover), Oddfellow Local 151 (which I really like), Lightnin' Hopkins and Fireplace. Fireplace gets ruined by a saxophone solo. A saxophone solo is never a good idea. I listened in abject horror, I need a word with whoever had the idea. REM does not have a lot of genuine musical missteps (the next is on Out of Time), but this is one.
End of the World as We Know It: this song has endured 30+ years for a reason. It is a perfect pop song. There are too many hooks to count, the lyrics are wild, the baseline is walking up and down, the drum roll at the start is perfect, Bucks guitar is spot on and I especially love the short call and response of: "right?", "right!" between Stipe and Mills and of course all the backing vocals (Mills is singing "time I had some time alone" over the chorus, which is eerily fitting these days)
The One I Love, the song is basically a short guitar riff and the chorus of "Fiiireeeeeeeee!". It was one of the first songs I learned on guitar (5 chords) because REM ruled my life when I was 14.
King of Birds, Buck plays a dulcimer on this song, a folk string instrument from the Appalachians (I think he can basically play anything with strings). This song has my favourite vocal part of all REM songs "awaaaayyyyyyy!"
Closing thoughts: This is the last album of the IRS era. I don't think it is an album every record collection needs, though I liked it more after listening to it again. I will be making an REM IRS era playlist before we move on to Warner Bros. REM signing with Warner Bros and having become more and more radio friendly worried the "REM is selling out" crowd to no end. Green did not erase these fears, nor did it eliminate the worries from Warner, that REM might be a bit too weird. It is one whiplash of an album.
I did not misspell the title, it is the original spelling of the album. They always write contractions without the apostrophe on their album and song titles, because, art, I guess. Now this is the first (of many) albums, which "is the one REM sold out with". I'm firmly on team "REM never sold out", but as I don't want to be commenting on hairstyles each post (yes, there will be more of that, once we get to Monster) and my music knowledge is limited, we'll be looking into the claim of selling out today.
I tried to google if Mills is playing the piano parts in Hyena and Just a Touch (live he is always playing bass and the piano is missing) because they are wild
For Lifes Rich Pageant, the accusations of "selling out" is due to changes in musical style and production. REM moved from folky post-punk to more straightforward rock, with the most obvious change being Buck moving from his fast arpeggiated guitar to shorter riffs. The production is cleaner, instead of all the instruments and vocals being mixed into one interwoven sound, Stipes vocals are firmly in the foreground and each instrument can be heard clearly. The result is that the album is a lot more accessible than the previous ones were and much more radio friendly (in theory, more about this later). And to some people making music more people want to listen to = selling out. But let's take a closer look:
Lifes Rich Pageant
This album rocks, it has 5 really good rock songs, Begin the Begin, These Days, Hyena (with some crazy piano, I'm guessing by Mills), I Believe (with awesome banjo playing by Buck) and Just a Touch, which they kindly added to have a good comparison to their old style, as it is an older song (written around Reckoning) and mixed the old way (everything squashed together, to use professional music jargon). It also still has appropriate REM weirdness (selling out my ass) with a weird samba? thing and distorted vocals in Underneath the Bunker, strange folksiness in Swan, Swan Humingbird and Superman, which will get a shout out. The lyrics, while still obscure, are clearly political, with Fall on Me and The Flowers of Guatemala using very few words to very effectively address pollution and US involvement in counter-insurgent genocide in Guatemala.
This is the first album where Mills gets to sing lead, on Superman, a cover from the relatively unknown sunshine pop band The Clique from 1969. I think at this point REM was trolling the record company, choosing this song (which sounds very 1970s) as a single, over all the radio friendly rock songs on the album
Fall on Me, the other single, makes more sense, it is very REM, jangle guitar, melodic bass and vocal harmonies. Thanks to the cleaner production you can even hear Berry in the chorus singing "It's gonna fall". Which is cool, because Bill Berry is cool.
Flowers of Guatemala is a song you have to listen to. The lyrics are a masterpiece.
Closing thoughts: I own this album and Murmur and I have always preferred it over Murmur. This is the most consistently good album of IRS area, with Fables of the Reconstruction having higher highs. These two I would recommend, though I also like Reckoning and Murmur. My least favourite album from the IRS area is Document and up next. It is the album where they started working with Scott Litt as a producer, who had an immense influence on the REM sound of the 90s.
Finally, my favourite doctors, some were a surprise to me, some are expected.
I never thought he would be in my top five. The doctor working with the military should not be a doctor I like. But he is just so nice. Not fake polite nice, like Five, but genuinely kind. This doctor, same as his stories, are comfort food television, and just like everyone else in the last two months, I needed that.
Best story: It's not considered a good story, but I really liked the Green Death ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
The only NewWho doctor in the "good" category. His character is heavily based on the second doctor, which explains why I like him. He also has the alieness, sometimes reacts as detached as a 900+ year alien would to moral dilemmas which would bother a human, while still being inherently kind. While his stories lost in quality in later seasons, his persona stayed consistent. It also helped that I really like Amy and Rory as companions and Clara was less annoying paired with him than Twelve.
Best story: The Girl Who Waited (It is such a stand out that I don't want to name any others)
The doctor people either love or hate. He is rude, full of unearned confidence and pompous. All of this makes him extremely entertaining to watch, I even enjoy his many bad episodes. I'm probably one of the few people in the world who liked The Twin Dilemma. Maybe I'm over-analyzing, but I always feel like there is a very kind person under all the rudeness and a scared person who dares himself to be brave under the pompousness. The delivery of "Is Perry dead?" in Trial of a Time Lord broke my heart a little.
Best story: Vengeance on Varos
Best story: So many, Ark in Space to Genesis of the Daleks, most of season 13, Face of Evil, City of Death and I really liked the Pirate Planet, because of crazy Douglas Adams energy.
He is the archetype. As he said himself in his regeneration story, he is the doctor, with the definite article. He is enthusiastic, erratic, but smart and with a plan, alien and kind. His stories are some of the best stories in Who and if anyone wants to dip a toe into classic Who, he is the one I would start with. As much as I like Three, his show often feels like a different show, with his earth bound UNIT stories and One and Two often have very 60s TV pacing, which modern viewers might find glacial. Having said that, the best doctor, without a doubt is:
The moment I heard him described as the "space hobo" I knew I would love him. I was right. He really is the ultimate traveller, bumming around the galaxy with his friends, never really sure where he will end up, with his pockets full of knickknacks he randomly picked up. He is also the only doctor who is not an authority. The Time Lords are not turning towards him for help, they ignore him, because he isn't important and once he brings attention to himself, they harshly punish him for breaking their laws. In all other incarnations, he is much more powerful, this doctor really is the scrappy underdog, relying on his wits to safe the day. He also has the best companion ever, with Jamie.
Best story: The Power of the Daleks, The Macra Terror, The Enemy of the World, The Mind Robber and The War Games for the ending.
This is short, mostly because the doctors on here are those I do not have much to say about. They are all OK doctors, I just don't relate to them.
I first had him on the worst list, but he does not irritate me, he is just kind of bland. His regeneration story saves him, he knows for all the four episodes he is dying. saves his companion instead of himself and DOES NOT WHINE ABOUT IT, TEN!
Best story: The Caves of Androzani
The movie is just so bad. He is mostly confused about who he is or involved in an action scene. The badly written romance, which wouldn't even have worked had both characters been human does not help. In the few moments he is allowed to be the doctor (including Night of the Doctor) he is good and more interesting than Five (easy as this is).
No best story, just a bad movie and a television short
He just never clicked with me. He has a really good arc over the course of his series and is probably the most rounded characterised doctors, so he is here purely out of personal preference.
Best story: The Empty Child / The Doctor Dances
Is sooo much lower on this list then expected. The chess master with elaborate plans and kind of immoral seems like the kind of doctor I would like. I think it was because he had on one hand this adorable father - daughter relationship with Ace and on the other would sometimes actively lie to her for no reason other than plot. Maybe that would have been addressed in future stories.
Best story: Ghost Light or The Greatest Show in the Galaxy
I don't have that much to say about her. I like her, I like that she is kind, but also detached and seems to have different priorities a human would have.
Best story: Demons of the Punjab, (because it highlights everything, which is different with the new doctor and show runner), It takes you away (because it is so inventive)