Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
In 1988, REM, the darling of the college radio airwaves signed a massive contract with Warner Brothers records, which gave them complete creative freedom over all of their albums. They responded by releasing the dullest two albums they made in the twentieth century.
Sure, Green had a couple of hits, and Out Of Time gave them mainstream radio supremacy for a couple of years, but overall, each album felt like a few singles and B-sides thrown together for no reason.
The writing on Green is, compared to all their previous albums, atrocious. They gave up on imagery for straight-forward political chants, and it didn't work. While the lyrical content vastly improved for Out Of Time, and the mandolins and other string instruments went from "a thing we're experimenting with" to "the driving force of an album", it still didn't hold up for me.
In some sense, I think both "Radio Song" and "Shiny Happy People" were attempts to recreate "The One I Love" by making poppy sounding music with upbeat lyrics that were dripping with irony that most radio DJs and music fans wouldn't get. For me, they both failed, and I can't listen to them. Even with my favorite B-52 doing the background vocals for "Shiny Happy People", it's just too saccharine for me. And while I'm pretty sure I'd hate "Radio Song" even if it didn't have a pedophile-apologist, wannabe-prophet as its guest rapper, it sure is easier to hate knowing that KRS-One is involved. Neither song, even though they were radio hits, are on this album.
I have managed to put "Stand" on, even though it was the theme song to one of the worst television shows ever aired, "Get A Life".
I had a couple of previous versions of this reimagined album that was merely, Out Of Time. But I didn't like the flow, so I spent some time rearranging the tracks, and the idea of "Belong" being the focus of the album, with all other tracks referencing that story really appealed to me. So, instead of a mix of songs that I somewhat enjoy, this is a concept album about parental relationships after a politically divisive apocalypse. It might involve fish people. I'm not sure.
World Leader Pretend gives us a preview of R.E.M.'s more countrified sound. It still has the feel of early R.E.M. but there's a pedal steel guitar wonnnnnnnnnnng that comes in from time to time that hints at the musical changes taking place on this album. The lyrics could fit well, thematically, on Document, though they're a bit too straight-forward. They also foreshadow that something pretty terrible is about to happen.
Stipe transitions us into a love poem, while using the same basic imagery from the first track, in Belong. This is a weird little fable about using the word belong as a spell to keep her child alive and apart from whatever drastic world change she heard about before she folded the newspaper and silenced the radio.
The woman from "Belong" has left her child behind to be with her people overseas. She, and a group of her friends, are singing this very contradictory song, Orange Crush, to her child, who is older now, and who she hasn't heard anything about in years. There is a political chanting breakdown in the middle of this song that reinforces that something awful happened in "World Leader Pretend' that has broken up families, and insinuates that it may have changed the way humans have evolved.
There's a little bit of a calliope break, and then we move to see the son from "Belong", who is starting to see cracks in the capitalist, suburban society he's been living in. Every sign he sees advises him to Stand in the place where he lives and works. But his interior voice is suggesting that he needs to leave and start questioning everything around him.
Texarkana is the place where the mother has ended up. Because some people would need an apocalyptic scenario to take place before they ended up in Arkansas. This song mentions the stars falling out of the sky. Metaphor? Or is this scenario as science-fiction based as "Belong" suggests?
Joy! The mother and son are reunited, and he sort of recognizes her. But what on earth will they talk about? Pop Song 89 suggests the weather, the government, and a few other options. Sadly, she is on her deathbed, and occasionally loses coherency, and apologizes to the man she is no longer sure is her son.
Losing My Religion is a pretty straight-forward ballad. The son is losing his faith as his dying mother doesn't recognize him. He has work to do for the revolution, but he also wants to stay near his mother before she passes. This song is delivered to a doctor who may not share the son's political affiliations.
The doctor the son has been confessing to has fallen in love with him, and they are spending a ton of time together both in and out of the hospital, but she knows she's going to have to report him to the authorities. But, damn, yo, the sex is great. It gets her Near Wild Heaven.
Me In Honey is the son's response to finding out the doctor narced on him, and he has to go on the run again. (If Stipe plays the son, then Kate Pierson from the B-52s plays the doctor).
Country Feedback is the two lovers trying to come to sort of agreement as to whether or not to have a relationship. But in the end, the doctor kills him and just keeps repeating It's crazy what we could have had / I need this.
We close out the musical (the dark political sci-fi apocalypse musical starring 80s musicians) with Low, a rumination from the child who was born from the doctor and the son's relationship. His world is subterranean because his mom's side won, and pretty much destroyed the world. He's been the narrator (though this is his first song) for the whole show. This last track is sung through some sort of mask that allows him to go up to the surface, where he's visiting his mother's grave. In many ways, he feels as abandoned as his father had. His mother didn't leave him physically behind anywhere, but her feelings for his father and her role in his death made her distant.