Friday, April 18, 2008

And change is what I believe in: REM”s Lifes Rich Pageant

Another musical touch point came when I was 15 going on 16 and R.E.M. released Lifes Rich Pageant. I distinctly remember seeing the video for “Fall On Me” on MTV (Back when you could watch videos on MTV.). I was not only struck by the beauty of the song about air pollution, but also the corresponding images in the video. It was a departure of both sound and visual from what was happening at the time. In addition to “Fall On Me,” the album contains so many great tracks and many are very political, such as the “Flowers Of Guatemala” about the US involvement in that country during the 1980s. This fit the continuing development of my political self, which I talked about in my article about Joe Strummer.

Other songs on the album (full of great songs) that stand out for me include “I Believe,” which is a great driving song, especially singing the lines “I believe my throat hurts” at the top of my lungs. “Swan Swan H” still stands as one of the prettiest songs in the REM catalog. And it fits the overall political content of the album since it is about the Civil War.

But beyond the songs, and this album in particular, the sound of REM is what makes them so great. The combination of the players and the way they interact is wonderful. From the chiming guitars of Peter Buck to the vocal harmonies of Michael Stipe and Mike Mills, the band had its own sound. Additionally they helped lead the charge of bands coming out of Athens, GA—some more successfully than others.

But one of the most important aspects of Lifes Rich Pageant is that it brought me into the REM fold, buying all of their records and listening for the past 20-some years. Just this morning, in fact, I was listening to the record, and I do mean the record, on my turntable. And judging by the reaction that they got to their recent performance at SXSW, the band is still vital.

Here is the video for “Fall On Me” and a live performance of the song from MTV Unplugged.


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