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Josh Hurst

What's your favorite R.E.M. studio album?

  

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I thought this might be a timely and spirited topic, given the release of R.E.M.'s new, backwards-glancing live album today.

I'm voting for Lifes Rich Pageant, though I could almost as easily go for New Adventures or Automatic or even Document.


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I voted for Murmur, partly because it was a stunning debut (for me; I realize there was earlier muaic), partly because I will always love that updated Byrds jangle, and partly because I liked Stipe better when he was mumbling indecipherable lyrics (as opposed to the later albums, where he clearly enunciates indecipherable lyrics).

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I voted for Green. It's not their most significant album, but it has always been my favorite despite all the cries of "sellout" that inevitably follow a major-label debut. It's got a couple of great singles (Pop Song 89 and Orange Crush... although I admit Stand gets a bit tedious after a while), and I absolutely love the untitled 11th track. I even remember the funny ad campaign they did in Rolling Stone at the time... the album was being released on Election Day and there were ads telling you to "go out and vote and go out and buy Green" or something to that effect.

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Out of Time.

I loved Green, and their live show on the Green tour made me a huge fan. But there are songs on Out of Time that are among my favorite rock songs: Yes, especially the overplayed Losing My Religion. But others too: "Half a World Away." "Low." "Belong." "Texarkana."

And it's vividly connected to some of the happiest, most exciting adventures I've enjoyed, so I feel a particular exhilaration listening to it. I was a sophomore in college and was really starting to enjoy the freedoms of being on my own in a big beautiful city, and that album, along with Achtung Baby became the soundtrack. It rekindles that sense of adventurousness and discovery that I felt during that time. What is more -

I remember feeling inspired by the fact that such unconventional, subversive, thoughtful, un-beautiful artists could be embraced by such a large audience. When they showed up on Saturday Night Live, there was a celebration in the student lounge in my dorm - dozens of English majors packed into the TV room to see our guys step into the spotlight.

And while I love Murmur, Document (which I just picked up on vinyl and fell in love with again this weekend), Automatic for the People and Life's Rich Pageant, and still think New Adventures and Reveal are sorely underrated, Out of Time is still as bold and bright for me as it's front cover banner.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I have a feeling my choice, Monster won't be a popular one. If I was being, or trying to be objective about it, I'd have voted for Automatic for the People, but Monster was my introduction to them and I think gets an unnecessary bad rap among critics and fans. The singles were all solid, "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?," "Crush With Eyeliner", "Strange Currencies," and "Bang and Blame," and I can actually listen to the entire thing straight through.


"It's a dangerous business going out your front door." -- J.R.R. Tolkien
"I want to believe in art-induced epiphanies." -- Josie
"I would never be dismissive of pop entertainment; it's much too serious a matter for that." -- NBooth

"If apologetics could prove God, I would lose all faith in Him." -- Josie

"What if--just what if--the very act of storytelling is itself redemptive? What if gathering up the scraps and fragments of a disordered life and binding them between the pages of a book in all of their fragmentary disorder is itself a gambit against that disorder?" -- NBooth

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Jeffrey: I agree that New Adventures is underrated. In many ways, I think it's their most expansive, diverse album, and features some of their best songs. Reveal hasn't aged as well with me, but it's probably fair to call that one underrated as well. It's certainly a more accomplished work than Up or Around the Sun.

Daryl: I love Monster. Also very underrated.


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Murmur is the enduring classic in my book. That homespun Mitch Easter-molded twang, without a hint of guitar overdrive, was appallingly out of step with the music of that time-- and for its uniqueness alone, it has a special place in my collection. It also doesnt hurt that the songs were all cozy, heartfelt and memorable. However,... Reckoning is my sentimental favorite. It has all the wistful Athenian charm of their debut, with a slightly more robust sound. It's clearly not the revelation that Murmur was at the time, but the songs are far more immediate and catchy. No matter how many times I've heard them, tunes like Harborcoat, Camera, Letter Never Sent and of course South Central Rain (one of the great singles of all time, imo)open a floodgate of good vibes for me.


"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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I love them all to varying degrees, but Fables is the one I keep coming back to as a favorite. I know that the band (or at least Buck) have disavowed it but I hear new things I love about it every time.

Also, this is as good a place as any to point out that I've never agreed with the critical drubbing Monster received. There are terrific songs throughout and the time was right for R.E.M to release a noisy record.

Edited by J. Henry Waugh

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Monster's great. "Let Me In" is one of their strongest songs, made more poignant by the fact that Peter's playing Kurt Cobain's guitar.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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"Let Me In" is one of their strongest songs, made more poignant by the fact that Peter's playing Kurt Cobain's guitar.

I never knew that. Interesting.


"It's a dangerous business going out your front door." -- J.R.R. Tolkien
"I want to believe in art-induced epiphanies." -- Josie
"I would never be dismissive of pop entertainment; it's much too serious a matter for that." -- NBooth

"If apologetics could prove God, I would lose all faith in Him." -- Josie

"What if--just what if--the very act of storytelling is itself redemptive? What if gathering up the scraps and fragments of a disordered life and binding them between the pages of a book in all of their fragmentary disorder is itself a gambit against that disorder?" -- NBooth

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This thread, like the live album that inspired it, is a great reminded of what a deep, rich back catalog this band has. I'm listening to Reckoning this afternoon-- an album I've largely neglected over the years, at least compared to the others-- and it's like I'm hearing it for the first time, and really loving its ragged, careening energy.


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Out of Time will always be my sentimental favorite. I had heard snippets from their early albums here and there, but I was too much of a teenaged metalhead to appreciate them. But when I heard "Losing My Religion" on the radio, that killer mandolin hook floored me. I went and bought it, and started to think that there must be something to this band. And what a great album. I loved Stipe's vocal on "Radio Song", and as strange as it seemed, the rap break fit perfectly. "Me in Honey" is an underrated gem, and "Country Feedback" is wonderfully weird.

Then I went back and dug up Murmur and Reckoning and discovered that I liked that energetic twangy stuff.

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This thread, like the live album that inspired it, is a great reminded of what a deep, rich back catalog this band has. I'm listening to Reckoning this afternoon-- an album I've largely neglected over the years, at least compared to the others-- and it's like I'm hearing it for the first time, and really loving its ragged, careening energy.

Careening is a perfect word for their sound during this era. I saw them live in support of Fables-- 1985 if memory serves-- and apart from Stipe wearing a dress with an "X" painted on his forehead, i best recall that untamed, punky energy from the show. It didnt hurt that the Minutemen opened.

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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I voted for Lifes Rich Pageant which captures my favourite era, retaining a bit of the mystique of their earlier records, while adding a bit more punch. And it's my favourite set of songs. I feel like I'm neglecting Murmur, which is also very, very good, and I also have soft spots for Fables and Automatic.


It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents

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Twenty-four hours after the poll started, there's still not a single vote for any of their post-Berry albums. This is, of course, not surprising, and it's probably the way it should be. Berry was their anchor, and the voice of reason, the guy who kept them rooted in rock and roll. That said, I do think the post-Berry work, especially Reveal, gets short-changed sometimes. Yes, it's a little too fussy for its own good, sounding like way too many hours were spent fiddling with ProTools in the studio, but it's also their most melodically rich work, and, in my opinion, Stipe's best set of lyrics.

Around the Sun, however, remains my least favorite album of all time-- by this band or any other. Which isn't to say that it's the worst, exactly-- just the one that broke my heart.


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Josh, I'm using this to respond to your previous two posts.

First off, yes, thank you for the reminder on just how terrific R.E.M.'s back catalog is. I was a freshman in high school when Out of Time came out, and it was great to be able to discover all of those great older albums one by one whenever I had extra money to spend on albums.

As for the post-Berry work: As I had with the previous three albums, I was standing at the door of the local record shop waiting for it to open the day Up was released. This came right at the time that I was devouring Son Volt's Trace, Vigilantes of Love, Mermaid Avenue, etc. and I had a blind spot for the electronic elements of Up to an extent that I never gave it a fair chance.

It wasn't until Around the Sun came out that I went back and listened to Up-Reveal-ARS fairly. I think all three albums simply suffer from being inconsistent. There are some good tunes buried among the unnecessary ones.

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It wasn't until Around the Sun came out that I went back and listened to Up-Reveal-ARS fairly. I think all three albums simply suffer from being inconsistent. There are some good tunes buried among the unnecessary ones.

The songwriting on those albums is actually very solid: It's the production that kills 'em.


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It wasn't until Around the Sun came out that I went back and listened to Up-Reveal-ARS fairly. I think all three albums simply suffer from being inconsistent. There are some good tunes buried among the unnecessary ones.

The songwriting on those albums is actually very solid: It's the production that kills 'em.

Can you expand on that? (I ask because I sincerely am interested not because I think I disagree and am picking a fight).

I have a vague memory of a Buck interview to promote New Adventures where he mentioned that the band thought that different production could have turned Be Mine into a monster single but loved the version they'd completed too much to change it. Or something to that affect.

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The songwriting on those albums is actually very solid: It's the production that kills 'em.

I disagree. It's not the production so much as it's the entire sonic approach they took to writing, in the name of creative maturation or whatever it was they were trying to prove. This is a common middle-aged phenomena, particularly with artists who have a fairly limited facility. REM do a couple of things splendidly. They're essentially a garage band, unfortunately sometimes they think they're something different than that. The harsh fact is, the songs that made them truly great are simple, chiming guitar parts/four chords/supportive bass/rudimentary drumming/mumbling. This is the formula that works for them. There are a few minor variations on this theme in their catalog (mostly in their early work where Buck made some unusual chord choices in rock songs, with amazing results... The Em-Gm7 in So. Central Rain is a perfect example. That progression is so foreign to the music of the time, it's ridiculous and it's part of the beauty of that tune)

So again, they play like a glorified garage band. No amount of fame or zillion dollar record deals will ever change that. So it isnt a surprise that when they hit their 40's, all of sudden they wanted to record some Brian Wilson-inspired tracks or throw in some electronic elements or allow Stipe to sing like a soul singer. Branch out. Blech. Those are stylistic choices but to zero in beyond that, i dont think the songs themselves from that period are particularly memorable or interesting at all. I do like most of Stipe's lyrics from those albums, but that's about it. ARS is abominable. And to me it has nothing to do with the style the tunes are couched in-- which admittedly is off-putting for any REM fan-- it's just the bulk of the compositions are dreary, flat and utterly, utterly predictable.


"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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Greg, I see your point.

But couldn't the same branching out criticism be leveled at many of the songs on Out of Time? Or were they successful once, but couldn't duplicate it constantly again?

I'm not a huge fan of the Up-Reveal-ARS cycle, but whenever I hear those albums (a few times a year now), I like many of the songs but just not enough to compel me to listen to the album more frequently.

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But couldn't the same branching out criticism be leveled at many of the songs on Out of Time? Or were they successful once, but couldn't duplicate it constantly again?
I never dug Out of Time-- don't own it and havent listened to those songs in years. After Life's Rich Pageant, I think they fell away from their former glory. They returned again with Automatic and to an interesting degree with New Adventures, but I havent seen the old ghost since. (BTW, i do have the new live album and like it so far, but i dont think that counts.)

Jay Farrar and Bill Mallonee have been mentioned in this thread and I think they are both artists that struggle with the same constraints that REM has. They are artists with a fairly limited songwriting, uh what's the word... apparatus. That's not a slam at all. I think all three artists are great in their own ways. But the fact is, they do the southern, homespun twangy thing, mix it up with a little garage grunt and some intriguing lyrics and serve it up. It's yummy. Multitudes dig it-- i certainly do.

But at some point, i think these guys view these "constraints" limiting to their legacy or something and find this need to experiment with stuff that's very unbecoming of their strengths. Farrar had an album several years ago that struck me this way... the one where we had noise snippets sandwiched in between every song. And of course there was Bill's foray into Brit Pop and modern rock, which produced some fairly hideous results. When U2 tries to dip into Sabbath-riff power chord territory , i feel the same way. It's not "experimentation" in my view. It's straining.

So yeah, REM with electronic embellishments, sampling, Beach Boy harmonies, smarmy middle-aged grooves... that's not branching out to me-- that's straining. Do Stipe/Buck/Mills still have good songs in them? No doubt. Hopefully the Live At Olympia buzz will remind them of what they do best.

Edited by Greg P

"The things we enjoy are channels through which the divine glory strikes us, and those who love and delight in any good thing may yet learn to love God." --Gilbert Meilaender

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