R.E.M.: Lifes Rich Pageant / Eponymous / Dead Letter Office (Capitol/UMe) Review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Lifes Rich Pageant / Eponymous / Dead Letter Office


Aug 09, 2016 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

In 1986, R.E.M. were riding high. Coming off three successive albums that made them a progressively bigger and bigger draw on the college circuit, they were looking to expand their sound and their audience. Enlisting producer Don Gehman (John Mellencamp, whose Belmont Mall Studios it was recorded at), they succeeded with flying colors on Lifes Rich Pageant and proceeded to make their very best record. “Fall on Me” is the most well-known song on here, but almost every song is a classic, such as the jittery “Begin the Begin,” the environmental lament “Cuyahoga,” the driving “Hyena,” and the quiet “Swan Swan H.”

Fast-forward to 1987 and R.E.M. have a Billboard Top 10 hit with “The One I Love.” In between, though, came Dead Letter Office, originally released five months before their last I.R.S. album Document. Dead Letter Office is, despite consisting of B-side material, almost as strong as any of their proper I.R.S. albums. It is a mish-mash containing plenty of covers of songs by The Velvet Underground (no less than three songs), Aerosmith, Roger Miller, and Pylon with their version of Pylon’s “Crazy” being the best of the bunch. A notable original here is “Voice of Harold,” which is just the backing track of Reckoning‘s “7 Chinese Brothers” with singer Michael Stipe reciting the liner notes of a gospel album. Elsewhere, there is the band’s contribution to the Bachelor Party soundtrack (“Windout”) alongside other rarities.

After they first signed with Warner Bros. in 1988, I.R.S. released the “greatest hits” set Eponymous to fill out their contract. Eponymous is the more well-known “greatest hits” set that introduced many new fans to their early I.R.S. period, but is worthwhile for fans who already had all the albums since it contains the superior early single version of “Radio Free Europe,” a similarly blistering “Gardening at Night” that destroys the version on the Chronic Town EP and another non-album rarity (“Romance”). Plus, it flows really well as an album, too.

Overall, these two compilations function similarly to how Waxworks and Beeswax comprised 1977-1982 era XTC by compiling their A-sides and B-sides, respectively, and show that R.E.M. were one of the greatest singles band of the 1980’s along with one of the decade’s best bands period.

It should be noted that while I.R.S. originals can still be had for $10 or less in used bins, these are very nice-sounding vinyl reissues that look and sound much like the originals do. (www.remhq.com)

Author rating: 8/10

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August 9th 2016

Good call, Life’s Rich Pageant is my favourite REM album for sure (though Automatic For the People comes close). They would become a huge band starting with Document and make several albums, but this one’s right up there, almost every song is excellent.

Eponymous is also great as a best of the IRS years. Dead Letter Office is interesting, but quite uneven (imo). Fans of their later work should definitely pick up Pageant and Eponymous, Fables of the Reconstruction as well.