|Pop Song ’89
|You Are The Everything
|World Leader Pretend
|The Wrong Child
|Turn You Inside-Out
|I Remember California
|Eleventh Untitled Song
All songs by Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe.
Released: 9th November 1988.
Record Label: Warner Bros.
Are R.E.M. the best band in the world? The only one of the American Roots Guitar Band wave of a few years back to transcend the accusation of country-rock revivalism and seek out fresh musical approaches, they've come to stand comparison with the likes of Beach Boys, The Byrds and The Band in terms of consistency of quality and innovation. Each of their albums has been different from the one before, complete and individual unto itself yet indisputably R.E.M. This one opens in a positive, wide-eyed manner with Pop Song - ''Hello, I know you, I knew you, I think I can remember your name...Should we talk about the weather? Should we talk about the government?'' - rather than the darker, broody introspections of yore, and continues with the call to consciousness of Get Up, an invitation to greet the new day with hope rather than trepidation.
It's all indicative of a happier, more open attitude, with several songs developing the positive mood of hope and resolution (significantly the closing Untitled) whilst others evoke a feeling of contentment, of going home - perhaps the result of their deliberate year-long lay-off back home in Athens, GA. You Are Everything, for example, opens with crickets chirping, then continues with an interplay of accordion and mandolin which reminds one of The Band's Rockin' Chair, whilst Stipe sings of a feeling of absolute peace and stillness in the air. It's one of R.E.M.'s most completely charming songs. There's more first-person lyrics on Green than before, and intimations of a more worldly outlook from the often baffling Stipe - in Hairshirt, for instance, he speaks of hanging up that offending garment. Now we can hear him not just clearly but with a passion, it's clear he's talking not Complete Bollocks but a more refined, poetic form of Partial Bollocks through which truths hopefully may filter. The blank verse of World Leader Pretend could be his most personal statement, a coming to terms with the impotence of solipsism in which sly curlicues of pedal steel guitar and Mike Mills' almost subliminal backing vocal cry of Dreamer throw their own shadows on Stipe's vocal: ''This is my world, and I am World Leader Pretend...I raise the wall, and I will be the one to knock it down.''
Like the three great aforementioned '60s outfits, R.E.M. have realised the importance of an idiosyncratic approach to background vocals, here taken to new heights on songs like Get Up, You Are Everything and Untitled, with Mills offering a kind of ghostly ironic counterpoint to Stipe's lead vocal lines - of which there are often more than one in the first place, overlapping to support or contradict each other. It's done with great grace in complexity, the effect alluring rather than off-putting, and contributes to the overall impression of Green as their friendliest album. For most of the time, anyway. The harsher moments on Green come with I Could Turn You Inside Out - a rerun of Finest Worksong, to all intents and purposes; the single Orange Crush, in which a lyric dealing with biochemical warfare gets a paradoxically cheerful setting; and most flamboyantly with California, wherein huge washes of mellotron and guitar construct something which is exactly the opposite of what you expect a song called California to sound like -in place of sun and sea and sand there looms instead a massive Goth edifice in the vein of Wire's I Should Have Known Better. It's really, er, progressive.
But for every harsh moment on Green, there's an equivalent moment of lightness and fun - particularly the silly '60s dance-step structure and nonsense bubblegum of Stand (which comes complete with that rarity, the wah-wah guitar break!) - whilst the final resolution of Untitled closes the album on an unprecedentedly high and positive note. It's their best album yet, no doubt; the kind of record which, once you live with it a day or two, will soon become part of your family. Are R.E.M. the best band in the world? I reckon so.
By Andy Gill.