REM Begins Again
John Carswell | Franklin, TN | 08/17/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
Lifes Rich Pageant; 1986
My Rating: 83/100
REM Begins Again
Following on the heels of the band's first major misstep, PAGEANT is the album where REM starts to find some muscle amidst all the jangle. Whereas the band once relied on propulsion to drive many of their songs home, they slowed things down a bit here, combining huge choruses with slower tempos ("Begin the Begin", "Cuyahoga") to produce their most confident sounding record yet. This was the album that proved REM could be superstars, as evidenced by the classic status afforded to "Fall On Me," which prefigures future REM classics like "Losing My Religion", "Man on the Moon", and "Everybody Hurts." That's not to say that REM slows everything down here - "Hyena" and "These Days" are just as fast-paced and visceral as anything on the band's first three LPs. But this is the record where REM began to distance itself from even the best and brightest of 80's college radio, and laid the foundation for its future success.
1. Begin the Begin (4.5/5)
2. These Days (4/5)
3. Fall On Me (5/5)
4. Cuyahoga (5/5)
5. Hyena (5/5)
6. Underneath the Bunker
7. The Flowers of Guatemala (5/5)
8. I Believe (5/5)
9. What If We Give It Away? (5/5)
10. Just a Touch (4/5)
11. Swan Swan H (4/5)
12. Superman (4/5)"
Under-rated "transitional" album
H. Jin | Melbourne, Australia | 10/26/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"'Lifes Rich Pageant' is one of those dreaded "transitional" albums; almost always under-rated, or even overlooked. It captures REM as they move from the quirky jangle pop of their first three albums to the more polished commercial breakthrough of 'Document'. It is more accessible than any previous REM album, particularly its immediate predecessor 'Fables Of The Reconstruction', yet it retains the rawer, less polished feel of the band's early work.
On the surface, the album sounds like a cross between 'Reckoning' and 'Document'. REM return to the more upbeat jangley sound of their second album, yet there is also a slightly harder, direct edge to 'Pageant'. The riffs on several tracks are heavier, and Stipe articulates his lyrics properly for the first time. Perhaps not coincidentally, Stipe began seriously dabbling in social and political commentary, although at this stage they are mostly observations rather than the barbs seen on 'Document'. 'Cuyahoga', 'Flowers of Guatemala', and 'Fall On Me' are the clearest examples, with the latter becoming the band's biggest hit to date.
Yet there is a surprising amount of variety here. A more fun side of the band is evident on the slightly ragged singalongs 'These Days', 'Just A Touch' and 'I Believe'. There are also elements of the old-men-around-the-campfire-telling-tales country feel of 'Fables...'; most notably on 'Swan Swan H', but note also the ringing banjo intro to 'I Believe', the first verse of 'Cuyahoga', and the lyrical concerns of songs like 'Begin The Begin'.
It may not have packed the commercial or artistic punch of some other REM albums, but this is certainly no throwaway either. There are plenty of strong songs and interesting ideas, and overall a much more upbeat feel than the unsettling 'Fables..'. And since 'Document' showcased a more polished REM sound, 'Lifes Rich Pageant' is also the last album to showcase the more independent, free-spirited side of the band. You can tell that REM really enjoyed making this album, and that feel comes through to make the album an enjoyable experience.