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I spent the last month listening to every REM studio album in chronological order - Lifes Rich Pageant

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.
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.

Shout outs
  • 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

  • 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.

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