Saturday, June 11, 2016

Merit Ranking the 15 R.E.M. Studio Albums

15. Accelerate

Can't really hear it. Might be great. Victim of the loudness war. Probably is great, as I like how some of the songs sound on the Live at the Olympia in Dublin album.

I woke up and it was only 4:08 a.m. Dreamed I was peeing like you do and just managed to stop myself.

14. Collapse Into Now

Again, brick wall mastering just crushes any life that might be there on this album. I feel like with this and Accelerate, if I somehow got a hold of the Pro Tools session and audio files, I myself could mix great versions of these. That whole loudness war thing is just sad. See also Paul McCartney's Memory Almost Full and New. Ruined. And, as is sometimes the case with R.E.M., the track they cut from the album is the best one - We All Go Back To Where We Belong.

Shuffled into the bathroom and back, laid back down.

13. Monster

I love What's The Frequency, Kenneth?, Strange Currencies, Let Me In and others, but Crush With Eyeliner, King Of Comedy, and their plodding, too hip ilk make this album a bit of a slog for me.

Knew from painful experience that I wouldn't be able to go back to sleep.

12. Out Of Time

Again, their choices for the songs for the album vs. the single b-sides hurt this album the most of any in their catalog. I still love it, but I miss Fretless so much. Fretless!!!

Several paths occurred to me, including but not limited to a) a blog post about the top ten writer/artist collaborations in comics, b) internet chatting with a representative at apple about my next computer, and c) just lying in bed awake.

11. New Adventures in Hi-Fi

I hated this when it came out. I found the sound off-putting and the words overly hip and self-aggrandizing, but now that's like one of those feelings you can remember having but you can't remember why on earth you had it. I really dig this and my only quibble with the song choice is the siren version of Leave instead of the gorgeous atmospheric version they later released on In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003.

Nope. This is what I did instead of any of that.

10. Around the Sun

This album is often criticized as their nadir, sometimes by the band themselves. I don't get that. I love the little details ("When I saw you at the street fair, you called out my name" - Can't you just see that scene and feel the feelings?) and even the stuff that seemed so cloyingly specific to the politics of the time (Final Straw) has slipped into a more general artistic expression at this late date.

Because I saw a merit ranking of R.E.M. albums the other day and because I thought they got it wrong, I did this.

9. Up

Daysleeper and At My Most Beautiful both rank with anything they've ever done and the sound of this initial release from what I think of as R.3.M. (the trio version, after drummer Bill Berry left) has grown warmer and more accessible over time.

Someone on the internet got something wrong and I have to correct it. The endless cesspool that our culture and our very lives have become. And I'm going to fix it? Jesus help me.

8. Reveal

Very much of a piece with Up, I give this one a slight edge because I find it more coherent. Imitation of Life is one of those great pop singles with surprising depth that they seem to generate effortlessly. Reveal also has my favorite artwork of any of the R.3.M. releases.

But really - Around the Sun does not deserve the titanic level of dismissive crap thrown at it.

7. Reckoning

The jangly second album. I might've dropped it behind Reveal and Up but I've lived with and played these songs for so many years now - Rockville, So. Central Rain, and Pretty Persuasion have all appeared in setlists for my various bands - I had to have it in the top half.

I wrote out (from memory) the first word of each album title, cut the paper up, shuffled, and set them down above and below one another as they came out of my hand.

6. Document

The hits, the cohesive sound and mood, the raw power, the depth. A lot of multi-platinum albums don't deserve the attention and represent a triumph of some marketing team catching a transitory zeitgeist then later everybody's like remember when we thought that was cool? This is one of those that stands up and earns it.

I was actually kind of proud of that. I even knew the years they came out, except I had New Adventures in '95 instead of '96.

5. Green

The Wrong Child is one of the most extraordinary songs ever created. What other song has so effectively embodied and portrayed that feeling of childhood awkwardness? The wordplay on the whole album is fun and evocative, like in the song Get Up - do dreams "complicate" or "compliment" your life? Why not both? So much love.

This would have been a reasonable, even cool thing for a twenty-two year old to do, although someone currently that age would probably do it about Arcade Fire or some shit I don't know fuck-all about and never will because who the fuck cares?

4. Lifes Rich Pageant

What must it have been like to have such confidence in one's band? This album blasts away at everything bad and dumb and venal and replaces it with strength, feeling, and compassion. Typical staying power as I can listen to this and continue to discover new things.

I can admit that at forty-four I am not that interested in actively seeking out new bands, just enjoying the experience of listening to albums whose feelings and meanings have morphed and changed as I have.

3. Murmur

The debut full-length retains a beautiful, mysterious fuzziness even after 33 years. (Can it really have been that long?) Perfect Circle, Moral Kiosk, We Walk…None of these songs sounded like anything that had gone before. The bravery that must have taken. Your heart knows what "Heaven assumes shoulders high in the wind" and "So much more attractive inside the moral kiosk" mean. The music goes straight to your inner self.

Has what I want and what I need and what I get from music fundamentally changed? Now that would be a great thought experiment/blog post.

2. Fables of the Reconstruction

Controversial even within the band itself, Fables is the love it or hate it, difficult third album. Obviously I love it. The band is taking risks, adding horns and strings, zipping from funk to rock to punk and making it all their own. Driver 8 is right up there too, but I've played Wendell Gee more times than any other R.E.M. song and even wrote a sequel.

Is it really 6:30 now? Shiiiiiiiit. Maybe I can still get a few hours of sleep in. It is Saturday after all.

1. Automatic for the People

What can you say? Everybody Hurts literally saved the lives of the kind of beautiful, wonderful, artistic people who paradoxically are the ones who seem to tend to kill themselves. (But doctor, I AM Pagliacci!) Man On The Moon, Try Not To Breathe, Find The River. The sounds are rich and varied, the singing and playing are everything a person could want from a rock band.

Nope. Gonna need coffee again today looks like.