Monday, February 13, 2006

And There Stands R.E.M.

With Michael Stipe's growling vocals, Mike Mills' smooth but active basslines, Peter Buck's jangly guitarwork, and Bill Berry's driving drums, it doesn't get much better than the sounds of the southern boys of R.E.M. — particularly their early output. We all know that Stark Attack was mining the Amoeba cassette section recently. But when FriedOreo told me that Stark could have purchased Lifes Rich Pageant but didn't, I was horrified. I decided that now would be as good a time as any to provide a quick guide, in chronological order, on what to do if you see R.E.M. on the shelf, so that you don't make the same mistake Stark did.

Others, like rpshyena, will surely have something to contribute to this discussion, even though he and I agree on most things R.E.M. I invite him, and everyone else, to post lots of comments in response. Click below for the full story.

Murmur: R.E.M.'s first full-length, and their tightest of all. Buy it. Mugshot's Top 3: Laughing, Talk About the Passion, Catapult.

Reckoning: Not as strong straight through as Murmur, but this one has some of their best moves to date. Buy it. Mugshot's Top 3: Harborcoat, 7 Chinese Brothers, Pretty Persuasion.

Fables of the Reconstruction: Underrated, and R.E.M.'s most consistently solid album. Buy it. Mugshot's Top 3: Driver 8, Maps and Legends, Green Grow the Rushes.

Lifes Rich Pageant: Some of their best songs. Buy it. Mugshot's Top 5: Hyena, These Days, I Believe, Cuyahoga

Document: Big, shiny production, but a big disappointment after the first four. Don't bother.

Dead Letter Office: B-sides and loose tracks from the early days, including Chronic Town, the first EP. Buy it. Mugshot's Top 5: Voice of Harold, Ages of You, Gardening at Night, Bandwagon, Wolves, Lower

Green: Band's first album on a major label. Don't bother. Mugshot's Top 1: World Leader Pretend.

Out of Time: A nice change — perfect pop, with lots of your favorites. Buy it. Mugshot's Top 5: Texarkana, New Wild Heaven, Shiny Happy People, Losing My Religion, Low.

Automatic For the People: Everyone's favorite, but not mine. I'm used to the more driving stuff. Buy it, if you have a few extra bucks. Mugshot's Top 3: The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight, Monty Got a Raw Deal, Ignoreland.

Monster: Everyone's least favorite, but I don't mind it — that much. Buy it. That's right, buy it. Mugshot's Top 2: Star 69, Strange Currencies.

New Adventures in Hi-Fi: Spectacular stuff, with urgency and energy. Will please fans of the early work. Buy it. Mugshot's Top 3: New Test Leper, Be Mine, Bittersweet Me.

Up: First album without drummer Bill Berry. Band finding itself. Whacky, drum machines. Forget it — for now. Mugshot's Top 1: Sad Professor, and others, but I don't remember them.

Reveal: Band has found itself, but what they found isn't as great as it once was. Buy it, I guess.... Mugshot's Top 3: Imitation of Life, All the Way to Reno, Beat a Drum.

Around the Sun: Can't get through this whole thing yet. Buy it, and tell me if it's good.

One final note: it would behoove indie rock fans to check out "The Unseen Power of the Picket Fence," from the first disc of the 2-disc edition of Pavement's Crooked Rain. It's a better tribute to R.E.M. than the band's cover of "Camera."


At 5:08 PM, Blogger i know the boss said...

My knowledge of R.E.M. isn't nearly as encyclopedic as Mugshot's, so I won't even pretend. But I'd be remiss if I didn't come to the defense of a few songs:

Green: Commercial, yes, but "Orange Crush" is one hell of an antiwar song, and ex-girlfriends the world over will tell you that "You Are the Everything" is effing gorgeous.

Automatic for the People: If you don't think "Find the River" is one of the purdiest things ever put to wax, then you have no soul. End of discussion.

New Adventures in Hi-Fi: Amen. Add "So Fast, So Numb" and "Electrolite" to the list, please.

Up: I've gotta say, it took a while, but this album really grew on me over time. "The Apologist" and "You're in the Air" are really interesting, really clever explorations for this band, while tunes like "Daysleeper" and "At My Most Beautiful" are marvelous in a more classic R.E.M. way.

At 12:20 AM, Blogger FriedOreo said...

Shit, now I feel terrible for never giving REM a chance. Luckily Mugs burned me their best discs, so I'll get to work.

From my experience, two CDs appear more frequently than any others in used CDs racks: REM's "Monster," and the Gin Blossom's "New Miserable Experience."

At 7:16 AM, Blogger rpshyena said...

I feel obliged to stick up for Green. This album always gets shafted as an unsteady transitional album, which it is. However, no other REM album boasts mandoliners as beautiful and poignant as some of these. Wrong Child (trance-inducing vocal harmonies and strings) and Hairshirt (undiluted, aching sorrow), in particular. The creepy child-molester backing vocals in You Are the Everything kill it for me. Get Up also rocks and is useful for beleaguering sleeping friends and enemies alike.

At 7:30 AM, Blogger rpshyena said...

No self-control...

"The singer, he had long hai~hair,
And the drummer, he knew restraint.
[voice deepens]
And the bass-man, he had all the right moves.
And the guitar-player was no saint."

- Stephen Malkmus


At 2:51 PM, Blogger Mugshot said...

Touche, all -- here are some changes.
- Green: Yes on Get Up, but I can never like Orange Crush. It just bores me. As for the Mandolin, I'm more impressed than moved by this band's use of it (I usually like it better in bluegrass). And I actually think that the best mandolin song they did was Losing My Religion. But REM's best use of Mandolin, period, is in the Shiny Happy People video. A bored-looking Peter Buck strums one even though the song itself consists of no actual use of the instrument.
- i know the boss is right -- Find the River deserves a spot on my list for Automatic.
- As for New Adventures, I would probably add E-Bow the Letter and Leave before So Fast and Electrolite -- but the whole album works as one piece, so it's hard to separate songs out.

At 8:46 PM, Blogger ryunited and it feels so good said...

Oh man! VH1 Classic had a great string of REM videos the other day! Included old school videos for Driver 8 and Orange Crush.

I gotta say I can't agree with Mugmon on most of the albums that he kaboshes. I think REM were remarkably consistent even on the more commercial albums until they lost their drummer.

But then, I even loved Whats the Frequency Kenneth, so what do I know!


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