27 Years Ago: R.E.M.’s ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ Album Released
In 1986, ‘R.E.M.’ stood for Rapidly Evolving Machine.
The band, which formed in the humble setting of Athens, Georgia, and became kings of the “college rock” scene, began its meteoric rise with their fourth album, ‘Lifes Rich Pageant’ (note the lack of apostrophe), which turns 27 years old today.
It was their penultimate full-length release for I.R.S. Records, the label they’d leave for Warner Bros., and while their 1983 debut, ‘Murmur,’ stands as perhaps their most-respected ’80s album, ‘Pageant’ marked their true breakout moment — a harbinger of the superstardom around the corner.
‘Pageant,’ which reached No. 21 on the Billboard 200, was the first R.E.M. album to be certified gold on the strength of a single, as ‘Fall On Me,’ found its way onto boomboxes and Walkmen across the nation. A personal favorite of lead singer Michael Stipe, ‘Fall On Me’ is one of two environmentally charged opuses on the album, the other being Cuyahoga,’ which comes next on the track sequence.
Sonically, ‘Pageant’ embodies the distinctive “R.E.M. sound” that would become a hallmark of mainstream radio in the late ’80s and ’90s. All the key ingredients are there: call-and-response melodies sung in counterpoint by Stipe and bassist Mike Mills (who sings lead on the album’s lone cover, ‘Superman’); heavy-hit yet simple drum lines by Bill Berry; and the-Byrds-meets-Big Star strumming of Peter Buck, who layered acoustic guitar atop 12-string Rickenbacker jangle.
Listening to tunes like ‘The Flowers of Guatemala’ and ‘Hyena,’ one can hear the roots of future hits like ‘Stand,’ ‘It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),’ ‘Shiny Happy People’ and ‘Everybody Hurts.’ As befits its classic status, the album has been given the deluxe-reissue treatment, and the 2011 ’25th Anniversary Edition’ includes a second disc of demos and outtakes, among them a mysterious version of ‘Fall On Me, with a totally different set of lyrics.