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I spent the last month listening to every REM studio album in chronological order - Green

Green is the first album after REM moved from IRS to Warner Bros. The pressure was on with this album. They had to prove themselves to their new record company and had to deal with accusations of "selling out" after moving to a major label. Their main reason for moving was unhappiness with overseas distribution combined with a guarantee of full creative freedom, but they also got something between 8- 12 million out of it. Peter Buck used some of his new disposable income to purchase a mandolin and learned how to play it basically overnight. As a result some songs of the album are strange acoustic experiments, with mandolin as a main instrument. At the time, they mus have seemed like some fun little experiments, like King of Birds on Document, which had a dulcimer as a lead instrument. They are stuck between off beat bubble gum pop songs and Document style rock songs. I like to believe that REM played the bubble gum pop songs whenever someone from the record company came to visit the studio and the acoustic songs were secretly recorded in their back yard.

The bubble gum pop songs dominate the album. They are all a bit off beat, Pop Song 89 is ironic, Get Up is about Mills liking to sleep in and Stand is a pop song on steroids. 11 is sweet though and makes excellent use of Mills as second vocals.
The Document style songs are, unsurprisingly, political or dark. There are themes of war (Orange Crush, World Leader Pretend) unrest (Turn You Inside Out) and environmentalism (I Remember California). The chorus of Orange Crush has a cool call and response going on between Mills and Stipe. Turn You Inside Out has amazing background / second vocals going on and a really nice lead guitar by Buck.
Last there are the acoustic experiments. As my history with REM started with Out of Time, they did not seem out of the ordinary to me, when I listened to Green the first time. I wonder what people thought when they heard Hairshirt or The Wrong Child (the lyrics are really strange here, too. Amplified childhood trauma). The stand out song, not only from the acoustic songs, but from the whole album is You Are The Everything.

Shout outs:
  • Mike Mills used to oversleep and turn up late to recording sessions. So the lyrics of Get Up are all about how life is hard and you want to just sleep, but have to go and do stuff. It's the most relatable REM song (or any song) ever. Life is unfair, I oversleep and come late to work all the time , no one ever wrote a song for me, all I get told is to correct the sign in times at the end of the month.

  • Stand is kind of amazing. It has this over the top organ / carnival riff, has not one, but two key changes and the lyrics are what would happen if aliens tried to write a pop song. It's an over the top pop song on a sugar rush.

  • You Are The Everything starts with the sound of insects chirping in the dark (hence my theory that they recorded all the weird acoustic songs secretly at night in their backyard) and the whole song is the music version of a warm summer night in the country side. Bucks mandolin and Mills accordion (is there an instrument he cannot play?) create a beautiful atmospheric soundscape and Stipes lyrics flow over them. Hands down, best song of the album.

  • Closing thoughts: Green is my least favourite album from the Warner era with Bill Berry, but this is the era, which includes Out of Time and Automatic for the People, so this does not say much. With the next album my history with REM starts. I think no one really knew where REM would go next. Would they go full on pop? Have they finally sold out completely? They had had some hits with the bubble gum pop songs, like Stand after all. Instead, they chose the experimental acoustic songs as their inspiration for Out of Time and somehow managed to become world famous with an album featuring a mandolin and a harpsichord.

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