I always remember how impressed I was the first time I got this LP home and put it on the turntable. That was a good evening, because the other CD I'd got, which I played immediately afterwards, blew me away even more.
I came relatively late to R.E.M., and would have happily ignored them for longer, but for Richard cajoling me with a cassette he gave me of Life's Rich Pageant in 1987. Jeremy saw them once or twice in the allegedly glorious "IRS years", but I caught a recording of them live in '84 on Gideon Coe the night before last, and it didn't seem all that wonderful.
The enigma of R.E.M. for me was always how they had one foot in that leaden folk-country-rock Americana dirge and the other in exquisitely beautiful passages that had something in common with the conceptual performance-art-type things that Talking Heads and Laurie Anderson were doing at the time. All the interviews portrayed it as being three regular guitar-bass-drums guys on one side (in my terms, leaden) and Stipey on the other (exquisite). That simple?
The track I always liked the most was World Leader Pretend, and it was evident someone in the band agreed with me as it was the only song whose lyrics were printed on the inner sleeve. I thought of it as a kind of superior twin to It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) (and Superman before that, if you can be a twin to two separate things, which you can't), because it has a similar delusional sense of omnipotence and invincibility. And I further thought that was a reflection of the kind of psycho-cultural politics that Christopher Lasch was writing about in The Culture of Narcissism — and which was also refracted through Anderson, Byrne et al. Well, twenty years on, that cultural moment has passed, Wikipedia confirms that it was Stipe who saw the song as the album's (his?) "big moment" with lyrics "using millitary terms to describe a battle within", but I think my take on it still stands up tolerably well.
And twenty years on, I find I still like the album a great deal. It seems to me to be more consistently good than Automatic for the People, with few if any duff tracks, and a handful of great ones (as included on my mini-disc compilation).
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