In 1986, when this album was originally released on the IRS label, Athens, Georgia based rock ’n’ roll band R.E.M. was on the cusp of the major label popularity that would vault them from college rock favorites to international superstars. On this album, the mysterious, murky sound of their earlier albums was replaced with clearly enunciated vocals and crisp electric guitar. It suited the band well and paved the way for future success. The enigmatic nature of their music, one of their hallmarks, remained true despite the clarity on ominous songs like “Underneath the Bunker” where slightly distorted vocals and shimmering guitar make for an atmospheric success. Contrasted to that, “Begin the Begin” is simply blasting rock ‘n’ roll, an attention grabber that sets the pace for the remainder of the album, and would continue on strong up-tempo songs like “Hyena” and “Fall On Me.” The group shows its dynamic range with a flourish on the haunting song “The Flowers of Guatemala” as well as the spectral “Swan Swan H” and the mid-tempo “What If We Give It Away.” They end like they began with the riotous blast of rock ‘n’ roll fun called “Superman.” Disc two is given over to 19 previously unreleased demo tracks recorded by the band before the final studio sessions. While they are certainly interesting, especially illuminating the way the band developed their music over time, the rough takes include offer little for the general fan, although the die-hard fan will undoubtedly thrilled. This album has been a personal favorite of mine for years, so it was great to hear a crisp re-mastered version of one of the great albums of my youth. Lifes Rich Pageant (25th Anniversary Edition) - amazon.com
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