R.E.M. began to move toward mainstream record production on Lifes Rich Pageant, but they didn't have a commercial breakthrough until the following year's Document. Ironically, Document is a stranger, more varied album than its predecessor, but co-producer Scott Litt – who would go on to produce every R.E.M. album in the following decade – is a better conduit for the band than Don Gehman, giving the group a clean sound without sacrificing their enigmatic tendencies. "Finest Worksong," the stream-of-conscious rant "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," and the surprise Top Ten single "The One I Love" all crackle with muscular rhythms and guitar riffs, but the real surprise is how political the mid-tempo jangle pop of "Welcome to the Occupation," "Disturbance at the Heron House," and "King of Birds" is. Where Lifes Rich Pageant sounded a bit like a party record, Document is a fiery statement, and its memorable melodies and riffs are made all the more indelible by its righteous anger.
Fables of the Reconstruction was intentionally murky, and Lifes Rich Pageant was constructed as its polar opposite. Teaming with producer Don Gehman, who previously worked with John Mellencamp, R.E.M. developed their most forceful record to date. Where previous records kept the rhythm section in the background, Pageant emphasizes the beat, and the band turns in its hardest rockers to date, including the anthemic "Begin the Begin" and the punky "Just a Touch." But the cleaner production also benefits the ballads and the mid-tempo janglers, particularly since it helps reveal Michael Stipe's growing political obsessions, especially on the environmental anthems "Fall on Me" and "Cuyahoga." The group hasn't entirely left myths behind – witness the Civil War ballad "Swan Swan H" – but the band sound more contemporary both musically and lyrically than they did on either Fables or Murmur, which helps give the record an extra kick. And even with excellent songs like "I Believe," "Flowers of Guatemala," "These Days," and "What if We Give It Away," it's ironic that the most memorable moment comes from the garage rock obscurity "Superman," which is sung with glee by Mike Mills.
As far as major-label debuts by underground bands go, Green is fairly uncompromising. While it displays a more powerful guitar sound on "Get Up," "Turn You Inside Out," and "Orange Crush," it also takes more detours than Document, whether it's the bizarrely affecting contemporary folk of "The Wrong Child" and "You Are the Everything," the bubblegum of "Stand" and "Pop Song 89," or the introspection of the lovely "Hairshirt" and "World Leader Pretend." But instead of presenting a portrait of a band with a rich, eclectic vision, Green is incoherent. While its best moments are flat-out great, the band has bitten off more than it can chew; many of the songs sound like failed experiments, and its arena-ready production now sounds slightly dated. Nevertheless, half of the record is brilliant, and it certainly indicates that R.E.M. are continuing to diversify their sound.
SUSTO has been given many labels - Americana, alt-country, southern folk, indie rock, even gospel and though none of these descriptions are inaccurate, they only provide part of the picture. Bandleader and songsmith Justin Osborne’s lyrics bring the full picture into view. He weaves catchy hooks into honest storytelling, utilizing gothic imagery, wry humor, and social commentary to convey his confessional tales. His gravelly, pitch- perfect voice is the ideal vehicle to bring these heartfelt expressions to the listener and the sincerity he exudes while performing is palpable. Pair that with perfectly nuanced folk-rock instrumentation, and SUSTO remains in a genre all its own.
Samantha Brown is an English female singer-songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist, arranger and record producer.
The box set has been an 18-month labour of love and has been curated by me (SDE Editor, Paul Sinclair), with the full support and enthusiasm of Sam Brown. It includes newly mastered versions of the albums Stop! (1988) and April Moon (1990) and three further discs offering B-sides, unreleased demos.
The Monkees are an American-British pop rock band originally active between 1965 and 1971, with subsequent reunion albums and tours in the decades that followed…