Album: Lifes Rich Pageant
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File Under Mythology
And of course they changed it up again. This time, in search of a balance between their college radio roots and the success that a band this great utterly deserved, they traded Joe Boyd for Don Gehman, whose amazing drum sound was at the core of cheesy rock guy John Cougar’s transformation into heartland rock superstar John Mellencamp.
The result was Lifes Rich Pageant, a record that I initially liked more than I loved. And I think that was because the difference between the greatest songs and the rest of the songs was greater, and the sound was so clean and pristine, there wasn’t any mystery to try to solve with the songs I wasn’t initially into.
Birdie in the hand
For lifes rich demand
The insurgency began and he missed it
That said, the highs were so fucking high, over the years I came to appreciate just about everything on the record other than the throwaway “Underneath The Bunker,” the dull “What If We Give It Away?” and the overrated “Swan Swan H.” And of course, Lifes Rich Pageant was the last record where R.E.M. was solely ours, none of which we knew as we first looked at the weird “is that Bill Berry cover?” (Spoiler alert: yes!)
I looked for it and I found it
Myles Standish proud
A philanderer’s tie, that murders you
“Begin The Begin” begins the begin with a twisty, near-psychedelic Peter Buck guitar lick that almost instantly transforms into a near-funky feedback laden riff that drives the song over the biggest drums Bill Berry had played to date. After each verse, the song comes to a dead stop except for that guitar lick, which starts it right back up.
Life’s rich demand creates supply in the hand of the power
The only book that matters
Silence means security, silence meets approval
Always zenith on the TV
Tiger running around the tree
Follow the leader run and turn into butter
One of the things you notice instantly is that you can pretty much understand everything that Michael Stipe is singing, a trend that started a bit with Fables of The Reconstruction of the Fables, but becomes full-blown here. The words don’t always make sense, but c’mon, one thing at a time!
Let’s begin again, begin the begin
Let’s begin again like Martin Luther Zen, a mythology
Begins the begin
And so two records were the sound of the summer of 1986: The Queen is Dead and Lifes Rich Pageant; sitting the couch of an ex-girlfriend trying to woo her new roommate while singing “Martin Luther Zen, a mythology” every single time it came up. I didn’t know what “Martin Luther Zen, a mythology” meant — I pretty sure I still don’t — but of course that wasn’t the point. The point was to develop inside jokes and bond over R.E.M.
In any event, “Begin The Begin” signaled just how thick and muscular they wanted Lifes Rich Pageant to be, exemplified by a late bridge where Stipe shouts “Example / The finest example” while Berry launches into a cowbell-driven double-time, Mills cranking up the first of many space-filling keyboard parts that permeated the record leading into a strangled scream and extra intense repeat of the first verse
In the end, Stipe asks to begin again while Buck tosses in quick noisy leads until Berry slams the whole thing shut.
“Begin The Begin”
“Begin The Begin” live 1989
“Begin The Begin” live in Germany, 2003
“Begin The Begin” live in DC w/ Eddie Vedder, 2004
“Begin The Begin” live at R.E.M.’s Hall of Fame Introduction, 2007