Release Date: Jul 12, 2011
Record label: Capitol
Amonth or so ago, the comedian Stewart Lee gave a fascinating interview to the online magazine the Quietus about his favourite albums, during which talk turned to REM. "I don't think there's anyone whose career trajectory has been so disappointing," he opined, "starting so brilliantly and ending up so dreadful. They're just awful." On the one hand, you look at the rest of the interview – there's much talk of the wonders of European free improv, "jazz without the tunes" and various other things that suggest he's probably not that big on solemnly waving his lighter to Everybody Hurts – and think: well, he would say that, wouldn't he? On the other, there's the sense that Lee's is far from a lone voice when it comes to REM.
R.E.M. were already college-radio heroes by the time they made Lifes Rich Pageant in 1986. They could’ve kept making mumbly, jangly tunes for their core audience, but they went bigger and bolder, stepping toward radio-friendliness while retaining their iconoclastic spirit. The marvelously harmonized "Fall on Me" was their first crossover hit, while songs like "These Days" infused bombastic choruses with oddball charm.
Breathing new life into an otherwise burned out quartet worn thin from four consecutive years on the road, Lifes Rich Pageant (no apostrophe) convinced fans that 1985’s Fables of the Reconstruction was merely R. E. M.
On their fourth full-length LP, with the purposefully misspelled title, Lifes Rich Pageant, R.E.M. found themselves at something of an aesthetic crossroads. Coming off the murky abstractions of the Joe Boyd produced Fables of the Reconstruction, the band opted for John Mellencamp producer Don Gehman, whose acumen delivered a crisper, more radio friendly sound.
If R.E.M.'s third album, Fables of the Reconstruction, was an insular, heady record steeped in the folklore and archetypes of the American South, its follow-up, Life's Rich Pageant, represented the band's first foray into broad accessibility. That isn't to say the album lacks Michael Stipe's convoluted, rambling stream-of-consciousness lyrics or that R.E.M. had suddenly turned into the MOR act they would devolve into during the early aughts.
The cover of Lifes Rich Pageant features the handsome forehead and full eyebrows of drummer Bill Berry, whose face is cut off at the nose by a low-contrast picture of two buffalo. It's a curious image, embedded with a Buffalo Bill pun, and it playfully nods to the band's refusal to practice expected music-industry behaviors like appearing prominently on their album covers, lip-syncing in videos, writing love songs, or generally revealing too much of themselves beyond the music. Even four albums into their career, they still cultivated an enigmatic presence on Lifes Rich Pageant, starting with that cover and extending to the dropped apostrophe in that title and the mismatched tracklists.
R.E.M.’s now-classic fourth album marked the beginning of its evolution from indie scamps to mainstream mainstays. With Don Gehman (John Mellencamp, Eric Clapton) at the helm, the Athens, Georgia, four-piece focused on keening choruses (“Fall On Me”) and jangly pop (“Superman”), which helped them reach beyond their fervent college radio base. A new, second disc of demos offers an enchanting bare bones look at the album, plus early versions of several other songs, such as a punchy, punky “Bad Day” and a cheerily pell-mell “Mystery to Me.” The whole package is a head-snapping reminder that when R.E.M.
A dreary atmosphere surrounded R.E.M. during the recording of Fables of the Reconstruction. While a fine album in its own right, Fables also served as a breaking point for the band. Recording overseas in England with famed producer Joe Boyd may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but the consistent poor weather managed to work its way into the sessions.
The received wisdom on REM’s fourth album Lifes Rich Pageant is that it represents the moment that the critically doted upon sons of Athens finally manned up and stopped being so obtuse. And it’s true that the songs are rocky, major key and propulsive, that Michael Stipe’s vocals are full throated, that his lyrics are largely discernible, that the band mostly slough off their folk trappings, that whatever dickhead argument you’re going to trot out, it basically sounds like ABBA Gold next to the murk of Fables of the Reconstruction. But it’s also a record whose peculiarities run considerably deeper than that maddeningly absent apostrophe in the title.
For many people, Life’s Rich Pageant is the last “real” R.E.M. record. Although it shines a giant and unmistakable signal toward the direct and poppy approach the band would undertake on their next few albums, Pageant still retains the mumbles of Murmur, the jangles of Reckoning, and the rustic tones of Fables of the Reconstruction. But it bundles all those things in a cheerful and expansive sound—courtesy of producer Don Gehman, best known for his work with John Mellencamp—and, at the time, it seemed less like a definitive change in direction than just another example of R.E.M.
As part of its clockwork 25th anniversary repressing schedule for R.E.M.’s discography, Capitol now trots out the band’s fourth LP, Lifes Rich Pageant, for the remastered/deluxe treatment. Recorded in Indiana with producer Don Gehman and released in 1986, the album is unfortunately often downplayed in retrospective discussions of landmark recordings from the ‘80s. That’s a situation that requires rectification.
A watershed album on the cusp between their underground appeal and stadium future. David Sheppard 2011 It might be news to anyone born after the mid 1980s, but R.E.M. – these days grizzled, arena mainstays whose every new album seems to trump its predecessor for blandness – were once cerebral guitar music’s great white hopes, their records and live shows investing ‘alternative rock’ (a US taxonomy effectively invented to contextualise the band) with a potent cocktail of opaque Southern mystery, pealing Rickenbackers and heart-stopping choruses.
Producer Don Gehman brought a commercial hammer to the indie anvil on these Georgians' breakthrough fourth LP. Brawny ("Begin the Begin"), elated ("These Days"), messianic ("Fall on Me"), picaresque ("Cuyahoga"), and yes, howling ("Hyena") – and that's just the first side! A 25th anniversary minibox stuffs poster and postcards in with a mother lode second disc of 19 "Athens Demos," from punky ("Bad Day") to finished ("All the Right Friends"). .
There was a band I liked. Back then. REM. We caught them live in Manchester, in 1985, at The International Club. They went for a curry in Rusholme with club owner Gareth Evans. They loved the downbeat Manchester vibe. They mingled freely. It was a time of escape…of vision from that club’s ….