Lifes Rich Pageant 25th Anniversary Edition
Jul 13, 2011 Web Exclusive
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. He cajoled Michael Stipe into enunciation, thus eschewing the consonant dropping proclivities that famously defined R.E.M.'s first three LPs, brought the rhythm section into the fore to reveal a booming powerhouse in bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry, while allowing Peter Buck's guitar work to alternately crunch out power chords ("Begin the Begin," "These Days") and finesse jangle arpeggios ("Fall On Me," "The Flowers of Guatemala").
Pageant would set the table for the multiplatinum successes of Document and Green, and R.E.M. would take a sidelong glance at its template for 2008's Accelerate, but they'd never again capture the elusive essence of this record, long a fan-favorite. It managed to parse politics in a compassionate manner that was never ham-fisted, effectively rendering universal issues deeply personal and affecting, not an easy task. Pageant exists in a rarified echelon of R.E.M. records, alongside Murmur and Automatic for the People as one of their unimpeachable classics.
The 25th anniversary reissue is rounded out by a bonus disc of demos that are downright revelatory, essential to any hardcore fan. They include a nascent instrumental version of Document's "King of Birds," titled here as "March Song," which is a particularly grizzled fuzzed-out raga take. These reinforce what a strong impact Gehman had on the finished product, and on the band's career trajectory. He transformed them from a cult act into arena ready rockers, poised to become one of the biggest, and best, bands in the world. (www.remhq.com)
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