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 R.E.M. – Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)

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PostSubject: R.E.M. – Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)   Tue Jan 27, 2015 3:42 pm

R.E.M. – Lifes Rich Pageant (July 1986)

Little more than three years had passed since Murmur had come out. After such fabulous start, widely acclaim from its release by critics, the band managed somehow to keep up with the expectation with Reckoning. Third came Fables of the Reconstruction, which really is a great album, but lacked from the instant classic appeal of their first two attempts. There were too many changes? It could be that. The sound was definitely different, maybe it was the London atmosphere getting in the way of the band’s energy, since they decided to give the Islands a chance as recording center instead of their US recording fort in North Carolina, way closer to home. Whatever the reasons, expectations upon their next attempt’s fate were growing as fast as their growing popularity in the non-mainstream rock circles. They came back home for their fourth album in three years. Let’s see what happened.

Right after starting the begin, you can be sure their sound would be as unique no matter how many years pass, and that change was not for the worse in this case. The ball is set in motion, and it punches you right in the face with songs that, lyrically speaking at least, could have been written yesterday. Power struggle, politics, war… You could lyrically fit most of the songs in the album there. All part of life’s rich pageant, ain’t it? One could argue that writing a song about politics warrantees a timeless touch. But not everything written in the 60s was up to Dylan’s standard, and not every song is able to reach that ageless feel. So kudos to Michael Stipes! Listening to Swan Swan H I always picture a faceless soldier making their first steps out of the battling zone in the outset of a nameless war. It may not take you there lyrically, but the melancholic hint covering the acoustic strings accompanying such a simple unfluctuating vocal melody makes it all. “We are all free now”.

From war to revolution to greenolution, environmental concerns are also a prevalent topic through the album. Sometimes focusing on examples like the pollution issues found in Cuyahoga river (Cuyahoga); other times falling into mankind approach to our surroundings and how we value them (Fall on Me). Don’t be fooled, even if “flowers cover everything”, The Flowers of Guatemala were not in blossom back in the 1980s. But even if you put lyrics aside, melodies in this album are top tier. I mean, they prove here that there’s no need to sacrifice quality to obtain a catchy song with a distinguishable touch. A touch that was theirs to keep, and would not go away with time. If anyone put I Believe in 1992’s Automatic for the People it would do the trick. I mean, early versions of Bad Day are from this very period (1985’s Reconstruction tour to be more specific). Still today (well, sadly not today today, since they split a few years ago) a R.E.M. concert is not complete if they don’t throw some Lifes Rich Pageant to the audience.

The album overall has so many little stories it makes it grow with every listen. It is really Just a Touch about Elvis’ murder? Did they choose to cover Superman (arguably the most recognized version of this song is theirs) to give the already theme-packed album a lighter you don’t love me, look what you’re missing way out, or was meant as a last unexpected turn dealing with love/sexual obsession, just like their own Every Break You Take (it’s amazing how many people qualifies it as a love song. It could be, but a rather dark one, am I right?).

To wrap up, let’s gamble. Back when vinyls and cassettes were all you could grab, and when side A and B were really a thing. I dare you find me a better side A from the late 80s in rock music than Lifes Rich Pageants’. It is definitely one to Remember.

Comme elle vient ~ Encore et encore
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