Lifes Rich Pageant (25th Anniversary Edition)


While the following year’s Document would be the group’s true commercial breakthrough, the stage for that momentous event had been set by its predecessor, 1986’s Lifes Rich Pageant. The indie-rock heroes signaled a willingness to meet the mainstream halfway—OK, at least a little bit of the way—by tapping John Mellencamp producer Don Gehman. Singer Michael Stipe’s lyrics were here heard for the first time without a layer of obfuscatory sonic murk, allowing listeners to pick out an environmentalist theme on songs like “Fall on Me” and “Cuyahoga.” The group even flashed its sense of humor with a cover of the Clique’s “Superman,” bass player Mike Mills stepping up to sing lead with tongue-in-cheek bravado.

In addition to a punchy remastering job, this reissue adds a disc of demos recorded in R.E.M.’s native Athens, Ga., before the band uprooted itself and headed for Mellencamp’s Indiana studio. Among the most intriguing items are early iterations of songs that would turn up on later R.E.M. releases, including “Bad Day,” “All the Right Friends” and “King of Birds” (rendered here as an instrumental dubbed “March Song”). Of the songs that did make Pageant’s final cut, the inchoate “Fall on Me” in particular demonstrates how far the tune had to go before reaching studio fruition. One wishes that the B-sides and other ephemera recorded during the sessions and included on previous compilations were present here as well, but this latest repackaging of an early R.E.M. landmark offers plenty for fans to dig into. –Chris Neal

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