For some reason, I have found it to be a challenge to properly digest and process the next album, “Lifes Rich Pageant” by R.E.M. It is a good follow-on to The Smiths, and like every R.E.M. record I have included so far, it has multiple songs that I know and love, but I have had a hard time connecting with the rest of the record, even as I have listened to it multiple times. For this record, they changed producers and the overall record is a bit more of a rocker than previous releases.
The first two songs(“Begin The Begin” and “These Days”) do not really grab me. They are harder, driving guitar tracks but neither has much of a hook that pulls me in. Contrast that with the third song, “Fall On Me”, which is probably the purest and most alluring melody the band ever produced. Soft and melancholy as they contemplate the continued buildout of our planet, the vocal interplay between Michael Stipe and Michael Mills is perfect. Stipe really stands out here and proves what he can do when he is willing to unbury his vocals and stand in front of the band.
The next two songs, “Cuyahoga” and “Hyena”, have grown on me more, and in comparison, I find them more compelling than the first two tracks. “Underneath The Bunker” opens with an unusual 1960s samba spice, eventually complemented by some distorted vocals. It is a short but intriguing song. “The Flowers of Guatemala” is a pretty ballad, one of the songs I did grow to appreciate after multiple listens. “I Believe” is an up-tempo song that reminds me of the Bruce Springsteen, once it gets past the Appalachian banjo opening. I’m not crazy about the next two songs, “What If We Give It Away” and “Just A Touch”, but they are pleasant enough to listen to as well. “Swan Swan H” reminds me of vintage R.E.M. from their latest years, mainly because I have absolutely no idea what Michael Stipe is talking about on this song.
The other true classic on this record is the other single released, “Superman”. Even more so than “Fall On Me”, the harmony vocals of Stipe and Mills are phenomenal. I feel like I could listen to this song twenty times in a row and not tire of it. My search for the R.E.M. album that fully validates what I search for in the band continues, but with the obvious hits and hidden gems I eventually uncovered here, this was another step in the right direction.