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Old 01-25-2010, 08:35 AM   #31 (permalink)
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Great review of Reckoning. I have also tried looking for some live footage from those early shows but to no avail...
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Old 01-25-2010, 03:16 PM   #32 (permalink)
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Thanks, Burning Down. As I said, it's really fulfilling to review an album that's been such a big part of my life and childhood. More reviews on the way; Fables is next!
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Old 01-26-2010, 10:22 AM   #33 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rickenbacker View Post
Thanks, Burning Down. As I said, it's really fulfilling to review an album that's been such a big part of my life and childhood. More reviews on the way; Fables is next!
You're welcome! Keep it coming, I'm looking forward to the rest of them!
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Old 01-27-2010, 08:56 PM   #34 (permalink)
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Fables of the Reconstruction
Released 1985
I.R.S. Records


I realized something as I listened to this record, R.E.M.'s third full length release, earlier today. It occurred to me as I am reminded right now, that I have been unsuccessfully trying to review this album my whole life. Ever had one of those albums that scared you as a kid?

Fables scared me.

Fables is the kind of album that gives you nightmares for the longest time...

...Makes you wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night; the harsh, dissonant question-mark guitar riff of Feeling Gravity's Pull ringing in your ears. Fables will play out in your mind over and over again not because it's catchy or clever or interesting at all but rather because it is the kind of record the likes of which you have never heard and will never hear again. The Fables induction period feels like being sick and thinking that you might not even make it out. This record may sound terrible on the first listen. It may sound terrible on the 100th listen. But there will come a time, maybe tomorrow, maybe ten years from now when notice how beautiful the vocal delivery on the bridge of "Feeling Gravity's Pull" is. And then you'll realize for the first time how lush the instrumentation is throughout. Those horns on "Can't Get There From Here" sound incredible! Maybe later you'll look deeper into the record to find that the lyrics to "Wendell Gee" are some of the saddest ever, without any of the sentimentality that stereotypical "sad songs" are so ripe with. You may realize after some persistence that Life and How to Live It is one of the best songs ever. Perhaps most clear is how beautiful Michael Stipe's voice sounds throughout. His delivery on Kohoutek is perhaps better than any other R.E.M. song to date. That's a wonderful song too. Frankly, you will eventually find that every one of these songs is a classic, or at least should be. You will appreciate Fables of the Reconstruction for what it most certainly is, that is to say, one of the absolute best albums ever. I kid you not; it took me that long to realize the genius of this record.

When this great cosmic reversal of opinion occurs, and it always occurs, you may find yourself wondering how in the world this is the least regarded album of the I.R.S. Years. Fables is an incredibly dense and opaque album, nearly impenetrable and inescapably brooding. The reason that even the most hardcore R.E.M. fans don't jump for joy proclaiming Fables as their crowning achievement is that nobody sticks around long enough. Growing up with an album like this in constant rotation makes you think, and after enough thinking this album suddenly works. And by god if it worked for me it will work for you.

My favorite record ever is the Feelies' "The Good Earth", produced by R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and released one year after Fables of the Reconstruction. Though they never attained any mainstream popularity to speak of, the Feelies understood Fables and took it exactly one step further, blending into R.E.M.'s post-Civil War masterpiece images of wheat fields and pastures. Fans of the band may remember that R.E.M. themselves took much influence from the Feelies' debut, a record called "Crazy Rhythms", the sound of which R.E.M. adapted to produce Murmur. Call the Good Earth some sort of universal payback if you will, but it speaks volumes to R.E.M. that their record could have directly influenced something so incredible. And as such, Fables is incredible.

I'm afraid I can't go into detail further regarding how the album sounds; describing it with words simply wouldn't do it justice. Perhaps the only way it can be described is through its concept, an ingenious one at that, and easy to appreciate simply because it is so immediately interesting. The album is aptly named "Fables of the Reconstruction", as it is in its entirety a collection of songs that serve as modern retellings of Reconstruction-era American myths and stories. The back side (or front side, depending on how you look at it) of the Vinyl art says "Reconstruction of The", whereas the front says "Fables of the", implying that the album is better seen as a verbal cycle, "Fables of the Reconstruction" or "Reconstruction of the Fables". In this way, it is R.E.M.'s only album composed completely of narratives, a first for known abstract lyricist Michael Stipe. It is fascinating to see Stipe take on this challenge for the first time, and he turns out to be very good at it. However, staying true to his trademark style, the narratives are often lyrically muddy and near-indecipherable, and require many listens to fully understand.But even if the future looks bleak, keep listening to this record and it will pay off in the end.

By the way, if anybody ever does get this album to "click" with them, I'd really like to talk to them about it. You know, historical context, subliminal lyrical messages and connotations, sonic texture and the like. I've found this is one of the most fascinating records to discuss.

Key Tracks (Click to Download): "Feeling Gravity's Pull", "Life and How to Live It", "Wendell Gee"

10/10



Next Step: The Feelies - The Good Earth

Last edited by Rickenbacker; 01-28-2010 at 03:14 PM.
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Old 01-28-2010, 04:05 PM   #35 (permalink)
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Now, as you know, 2010 marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Fables, and I.R.S. plans to reissue it in a similar fashion to Murmur and Reckoning later in the year. I'll review that when it's released, but for now we'll move right along to 1986's Lifes Rich Pageant.
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Old 02-01-2010, 09:40 PM   #36 (permalink)
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No responses to the review of my favorite R.E.M. release, but I soldier on...

Lifes Rich Pageant
Released 1986
I.R.S. Records



I can't see, I'm so young, I'm so GOD DAMNED YOUNG!

If Document would come to be known as the album when R.E.M. went mainstream, then Lifes Rich Pageant [sic] is the album where they first sounded mainstream, at least comparatively speaking. After the audaciously inaccessible masterpiece that was Fables of the Reconstruction, the band turned its sights on making a real, no holds barred pop album, nearly the opposite of Fables and Murmur and more along the lines of Reckoning. With increased revenue from touring and record sales, R.E.M. hired producer Don Gehman. Gehman's production absolutely makes this record, which is perhaps the best sounding record in R.E.M.'s catalogue. Never is a sound out of place or a tone misconstrued, and the inclusion of additional instruments, many of which can be found well hidden within the confines of Fables of the Reconstruction's stony embrace. Banjos, keyboards, hammond organs, accordions and vocal whoops grace this album like a designer dress, enhancing its strengths and hiding any weaknesses it may have had otherwise.

And I'm not kidding. Remember how great that song Hyena was on the Reckoning Live Set? The studio version here is just as energetic, but without all the sloppy playing and with an arrangement ten times better. The song begins with this incredibly catchy keyboard riff, which is later supported by an equally awesome guitar riff that is absolutely mixed to perfection. Easily one of the best R.E.M. songs ever, and certainly one of the best sounding. While Hyena is certainly a highlight, many of the songs on the album share its upbeat tempo and gorgeous production, song after song. Aptly titled album opener Begin the Begin serves its purpose with yet another classic riff that leads right into the anthemic These Days (not a cover of the Jackson Browne song). These Days is filled with awesome nonsensical lyrics and of course YET ANOTHER killer Peter Buck riff. These Days is one of those songs that hits you and makes you stop what you're doing to listen. That seems to be a recurring theme on the album, with I Believe following a similar formula. More nonsensical and even more anthemic than These Days, I Believe is arguably the best song on the album and had a significant run as my favorite R.E.M. song ever a few months ago. From the banjo intro, recorded unbeknownst to Peter Buck while he was playing around in the studio, to the very quotable "I Believe in coyotes and time as an abstract" line, this song is an awesome, cathartic thrill ride.

These songs were perhaps as close as R.E.M. would ever come to "rocking out" in the conventional sense, and as such, carry an air of youth about them. Just a Touch, a song that may have been written as long ago as 1981, is easily the most raw and, well, young sounding song they had recorded to that point, emphasized by the lyrics which convey a certain immaturity that is both lovable and relatable. Curious as it may seem, if the aforementioned songs were released together as a five song EP a la Chronic Town it would be a damn fine EP and a very respectable record. But like all truly great R.E.M. records, Lifes Rich Pageant is not what it may appear to be; a brief yet exhilarating thrill ride of an album. Rather, it is an incredibly mature and intelligent record disguised as a series of innocent, naive teenage anthems that when viewed from that perspective almost verges on self parody at times. If I had any problems with Lifes Rich Pageant, it would be that, but it hardly matters.

We have found a way to talk around the problem.


This record's maturity showcases the lyrical and musical progression of the band, and is best exemplified in the glorious mid-tempo and slow pieces that adorn the album. Such is the nature of Fall On Me, the band's first single to crack the top 100. Fall on Me is a song so beautiful that it requires many listens to fully appreciate. Built upon four guitar overdubs, Fall on Me is musically rich and lyrically genius, exhibiting perhaps Stipe's first truly brilliant lyric, a trite and near-cynical take on the Gallic belief that the sky would fall on the heads of those below. However it is Mike Mills' stunningly gorgeous harmonies and brief vocal solo that make the song, thus affirming my belief that Mills is the most underrated and most valuable member of the band. He trades lines with Stipe in such perfect harmony that the final product is really something to behold. Cuyahoga, which follows, is nearly as fantastic, with Michael delivering a stark narrative regarding the Cuyahoga River, which in 1969 lit on fire due to the number of pollutants occupying it. Stipe's vocal is very on target; an example of how great a voice he possesses and how it would be utilized on forthcoming albums. However, neither of these songs can touch the sheer brilliance of the Scarborough Faire style dirge that is Swan Swan H, a song so hauntingly dark and beautiful that it manages to top all the undeniable classics present on the record. The droning strum of the twelve string signals the arrival of a spindly sounding riff as Stipe descends into stream of consciousness style lyrics atop an off-kilter melody. The effect is breathtaking yet gentle, and easily one of my top five R.E.M. songs if not my absolute favorite.

Honestly, there's not a lot more to say about Lifes Rich Pageant. Just get it, and you'll like it. It's one of the more likeable R.E.M. records, especially after the difficult Fables. And so ends R.E.M.'s string of four perfect albums in a row. To say it's all downhill from here would not exactly be fair, but needless to say, these first four LPs are amazing.

Key Tracks (Click to Download): "Fall on Me", "I Believe", "Swan Swan H"

10/10




Next Step: The Replacements - Let it Be


Last edited by Rickenbacker; 02-03-2010 at 08:03 PM.
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Old 02-02-2010, 09:24 AM   #37 (permalink)
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I agree with you 100% on Fables. It's an excellent album, and a genuine piece of art right down to the cover.

Lifes Rich Pageant, in my opinion, has been largely underrated. I think it kind of got swept away after the release of Document.
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Old 02-03-2010, 10:06 PM   #38 (permalink)
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Fables is a really strong album. It took me a few listens to really sink into it. I agree that Lifes Rich Pageant is like a complete reversal. Some of the songs on the latter, while immediately catchy, didn't strike me as "great" for some reason though. Either way, both albums are brilliant.

I admit due to a lack of enthusiasm of others, some of their albums I have not gotten around to listen to. These being albums that come much later in their progression, but I always seem to find something to like about all of their albums that I have heard.
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Old 02-04-2010, 05:38 PM   #39 (permalink)
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Thanks for the input both of you! Expect the review of Document up tomorrow. I've got a school dance that day and of course I would rather write some R.E.M. reviews.


I live a sad sad life
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Old 02-04-2010, 07:07 PM   #40 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rickenbacker View Post
Thanks for the input both of you! Expect the review of Document up tomorrow. I've got a school dance that day and of course I would rather write some R.E.M. reviews.


I live a sad sad life
Nah, I don't know about your school dances but it's much more worthwhile staying home from mine than subjecting yourself to the shitty music, shitty dancing, and shitty everything.
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