Tuesday, January 4, 2011

An introduction to LIFES RICH PAGEANT

Here we are at full length album number 4.  This process has gone much quicker than I have anticipated, so with this one I'm going to slow it down a bit as you might have already noticed.  According to Bill Berry, the FABLES sessions were the 'closest the band had come to breaking up.'  In OLYMPIA, Stipe acknowledges that before this album was a 'dark period' for him.  If there could be a testament to how the band reacted to the darkness of the FABLES time period, PAGEANT is it.  It was also the beginning of the end of their relationship with the record label IRS.
  Pageant turned out to be the best selling album of their careers to this point.  It charted at 21.  And why not?  It was produced by John Mellencamp's producer at his studio, engineered with a radio friendly aesthetic in mind.  The songs were upbeat and well engineered.  So why only release FALL ON ME and SUPERMAN?  Perhaps it was the climate of music at the time and maybe the band put their foot down about releasing tracks, but let's face it: this album is ten times more accessible than OUT OF TIME.  Would 'These Days' have been a huge radio hit?  Acording to Billboard, maybe not.  1986 was a soft rock smorgasbord.  Madonna was in her True Blue phase, Robert Palmer, Huey Lewis, Whitney Houston ... the list goes on.  The only real rock tracks and albums were Van Halen, a Live Springsteen, and Bon Jovi.  Plus, did IRS have the firepower to heavily promote this album.  The answer must be no.  This album should have been bigger than it was, even though it was their most popular to date ... more a nod to the power of college radio at the time than anything else.
  Getting to the album itself, the band once again dipped into its older songs to beef up the album.  'Hyena,' 'What If We Give It Away,' and perhaps the oldest of all 'Just A Touch,' made their way to the album.  Hyena and Just A Touch had been recorded before, but had never fit the feel of an album.  'Begin The Begin' is a fitting start to any album, but also symbolizes the direction the band were heading.  They seem to be craving a new start, something brighter and clearer than their murky past.  The lyrics are finally in the fore on this album and rightly so, Stipe is clearly at the height of his poetic powers.  Buck is also taking his role as guitarist to new places with a number of layered guitars, more banjo, and great riffs.  We also hear a lot from Mills in the form of the cover of 'Superman' which fits nicely as the last song on the album.  And from Berry, perhaps my favorite background vocal from him, more for placement than originality: "It's going to fall." 
  I personally dreaded this album because I remember finding pretty reliable info on the net, but my memory seems to be faulty.  Not a lot of stuff to go on online, just chords.  I think this album is underestimated a little so I've decided to really sus out the dual guitar lines and background vocals.  This one in the end should really be worth the extra time!  First up: Begin the Begin.

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