Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Revisiting Life's Rich Pageant

There was a time when Life's Rich Pageant was my favourite R.E.M. album, perhaps my favourite album period. This wasn't merely because it felt like a hipper choice than Automatic for the People (although I won't deny that I enjoy feeling hipper than everyone else), but because I genuinely felt that Just a Touch and The Flowers of Guatemala were some of the best tracks in the R.E.M. pantheon.

I came back to LRP yesterday, and I must admit that it's not quite the world-beater I remember. The skyscraping solo in The Flowers of Guatemala (I swear to God, this was my #1 favourite song ever at one point) now sounds disappointingly prosaic, while Just a Touch - which used to sound like a thrilling rollercoaster ride of a song - has decayed into a slab of by-the-numbers rock 'n' roll filler.

Even the actual classics like These Days and Cuyahoga have less melodic content than I usually hold out for nowadays - the former is a tuneless (though admittedly very fun) joy-rant, and the latter's stupendous, soaring chrous is tempered by surprisingly weak verses. Michael Stipe kind of sounds like he's making the tune up on the fly:

Still, it's not a complete let-down, and I can still just about see why I used to love this album so much. Begin the Begin is still a perfect opening track, and Fall On Me an equally perfect lead single. It's I Believe, though, that really grabbed me - I don't recall being especially in love with that track the first time around, but when listening in the car yesterday, I discovered to my great pleasure that I knew all the words.

And so I shouted gleefully along with every syllable, probably paying slightly less attention to the road than is recommended. It's everything that These Days and Cuyahoga aren't: the verses are strong and sure, and while the delivery is just as frantic as on These Days, there's still a very clear melody that you can hum in your head for hours afterwards.

For the record, Fables of the Reconstruction is now my official Favourite R.E.M. Album. You won't hear me saying any of this negative stuff about THAT record, I can tell you.

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