Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
I really wanted to call the second album in the discography, Fables Of The Reconstruction, but I'd really stripped that album for Murmur, and there's not a ton of material here relevant to the Post-American Civil War Reconstruction.
This is a decidedly more political album than the first, though it's not as didactic and potentially off-putting as the Rock The Vote era R.E.M. Instead, it uses images and language in such a way that, over thirty years later, people still find the Document-era R.E.M. to be politically relevant.
Probably the best opening track in the band's history, The Finest Worksong is a nearly perfect example of how the band could take bright instrumentation in a minor key, drape non-traditional narrative lyrics around it, and arrange unusual but not challenging background vocals to enhance Stipe's voice. It really was the finest hour.
That's great it starts with an earthquake, and it follows it up with Stipe's fastest lyrical gatling gun. Imagine if Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire", instead of being a shitty middle aged turd blaming his parents' generation for all of the world's problems, was a guy nearing thirty, trying to come to terms with world events and why he isn't doing anything to change them. It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) is probably the most lyrically brilliant thing Stipe ever penned. I'm pretty sure that's a consensus opinion, though.
Swan Swan H is more Murmur style lyrics, but delivered clearly. I mean that both in the way that you can hear Stipe articulate the words, and that the message is evident, even though it's still told with more focus on imagery than the traditional pedantic narrative of rock.
While we're talking about non-traditional lyrics painting a clear story, Begin The Begin, the opening track from Life's Rich Pageant, advises the listener to follow the leader, run and turn into butter. If you ever want to give yourself an aneurysm, go to SongMeanings.com, type in any REM song, and read what various people think Stipe is trying to say (especially fun when it's a song that Stipe didn't write the lyrics for).
Carnival Of Sort (Boxcars) probably should have been on Murmur, not just because it's a very early R.E.M. song, but also because the lyrics are difficult to decipher. The calliope intro and laughing outro make this one of the band's creepier efforts.
We uplift a bit for I Believe. Musically, not lyrically. My inane interpretation of this song, were I to make a video of this song, would focus on a terminally ill kid who is housebound, but not bedridden, mostly seeing a surreal world outside his window, reading a ton of books, and being visited by an assortment of normal looking family members and creepy doctors wearing horrifying masks and blood soaked scrubs.
I don't usually like to include a song twice, but it's going to happen on this album. The studio version of Time After Time (Annelise) has some cool background effects, and the drums sit at such a weird place in the mix that it almost sounds like you're listening to one song on Youtube, not realizing that you have another tab open, and it's playing something that complements the song, but feels as though it doesn't actually belong.
My imaginary video for Pretty Persuasion is a man watching other people in a bar pair off into unlikely couples. We see subtitles for their various pickup lines and techniques, all of which are either shockingly bold, or else seem destined for failure. But they all work.
The background vocals for There She Goes make it sound like an early 20th century folk song. I am embarrassed to say that I was completely unfamiliar with the original version by The Velvet Underground. I knew this was a cover but never placed the original until well after I thought of it as an R.E.M. song.
When I was in elementary school, I joined a competition called Future Problem Solvers. The problem we fourth and fifth graders were expected to solve? Acid rain. Someone else in the group found some research (probably with a huge assist from our advisor) about Black Backed Gulls, and how their droppings counteracted the effects of acid rain. As I can't find said research or anything like it online, I'm going to guess it was disproven. But we worked hard on our concept, and we lost to the Home Team (the team representing the school where the competition was held) who thought you could beat acid rain with the power of positive thinking. Well, their approach didn't work, either, but it was good enough to crush our team, and I dropped out of the group before our next meeting. R.E.M.'s solution to the problem sing Don't Fall On Me in the acid rain's general direction, didn't work, either. So I guess Michael Stipe and I have that in common.
Talk About The Passion is the final studio track on the album. It's a highly repetitive anti-prayer, and a passionately sung song about losing passion. It devolves into applause.
The last three tracks are actually a medley. Someone in the audience requests that they sing Time After Time (Annelise), and Stipe starts acapella. The guitar track rises up to meet him and then the background vocals come. The song building itself around him is a really cool effect. There several verses in before Stipe starts singing the chorus to Peter Gabriel's Red Rain, and the audience applauds thinking the song, and perhaps the show, is coming to an end. But, surprise, the opening riff to So Central Rain kicks in and ... there's no percussion in this track, anywhere to be found. Was Bill Berry in the bathroom? ... then strings it back into "Red Rain". It's a really beautiful journey.