Lifes Rich Pageant

(1986), 10/10
R.E.M. took a step towards the mainstream with Lifes Rich Pageant, enlisting John Mellencamp’s producer, who gave them a more commercial and rock oriented sound, with Stipe’s vocals higher in the mix. Although R.E.M. lose some mystique in the process, the more direct sound is helpful, resulting in my favourite R.E.M. album. The majority of Lifes Rich Pageant is upbeat, but my favourite is the mellow ‘Flowers of Guatemala’; Peter Buck squeezes out a lovely melodic solo which awakes the otherwise soothing song in a breathtaking fashion, while his riffing is seldom as effective on the excellent opener ‘Begin the Begin’. Mike Mills gets some vocal spotlights and sounds fantastic; his cover of the garage rocker ‘Superman’ is charming, while his bridge on the wonderful single ‘Fall On Me’ and harmonies on the chorus of ‘Cuyahoga’ enhance each song. R.E.M. also peel off a convincing punk song with ‘Just a Touch’, and even the tossed off ‘Underneath the Bunker’ is fun. There’s some tough competition with the likes of Murmur and Automatic For The People for the title of best R.E.M. album, but Lifes Rich Pageant is my pick.

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