Reveal continued the new direction with a more upbeat sound than Up. It had 3 singles, and came in at #6 in the US, and #1 in the UK. The album was later remixed as r.e.m.IX, which was released as a free download from the band’s website. Joey Waronker continued to guest star as drummer.
- “The Lifting”: The album has an overall more electronic sound. This is a good opener. I like the mix on Michael’s vocals. It’s meant to be a prequel to “Daysleeper”.
- “I’ve Been High”: This has a good rhythm.
- “All the Way to Reno (You’re Gonna Be a Star)” This was the only single that didn’t chart. I like the guitar mix on this, and Michael’s voice is beautiful.
- “She Just Wants to Be”: This isn’t bad, but it’s not one of my favorite songs.
- “Disappear”: This song grew out of the friendship Stipe had with Thom Yorke of Radiohead fame. Stipe would tell him a good way to deal with stagefright is to tell yourself you’re not there. This became the song “How to Disappear Completely” on Kid A. This is one of the best songs.
- “Saturn Return”: This song conveys a since of loneliness, which is ironic considering the number of moons Saturn actually has.
- “Beat A Drum”: I like the keyboard on this song.
- “Imitation of Life”: This song’s title comes from the 1959 movie, and is a metaphor of puberty. I love this song.
- “Summer Turns to High”: Some dreamy instrumentation at the start. This song had to grow on me.
- “Chorus and the Ring”: I don’t like the way this song is mixed. I thought I heard too much fuzz. But it be just me.
- “I’ll Take the Rain”: Peter has a nice melancholic melody.
- “Beachball” : Three of the songs on this album are meant to be a tribute to the Beach Boys. (The others are “Beat a Drum” and “Summer Turn to High”. This is the one that feels the closest to that sound.
Final Verdict: This album had to grow on me, but I like it.
Up was R.E.M.’s first album without Bill Berry. Instead, they relied on session drummers Barrett Martin and Joey Waronker, (Martin had also worked with Screaming Trees and the supergroup Mad Season, as well as on several jazz projects. Waronker worked for Beck and Atoms For Peace) and drum machines. The album was produced by Pat McCarthy. The album had 4 singles, and reached #3 in the US and #2 in the UK.
- “Airportman”: This has some distortion that doesn’t sound all that good.
- “Lotus”: This has some good keyboard parts and surreal lyrics.
- “Suspicion”: This was the only single that didn’t chart. It’s got some great guitar work.
- “Hope”: This one’s not bad.
- “At My Most Beautiful”: Stipe sounds beautiful on this, and it has nice harmonies and keyboards.
- “The Apologist”: This is one of my favorite songs.
- “Sad Professor”: This has a nice guitar.
- “You’re in the Air”: I like the instrumentation. It hasa nice ethereal feel to it.
- “Walk Unafraid”: I like the rhythm of this song. Another favorite.
- “Why Not Smile”: Some nice slow keyboard and guitar on this.
- “Daysleeper”: This has a calming rhythm. One of my favorite songs.
- “Diminished “: This has a hidden track with Stipe on a solo guitar.
- “Parakeet”: This is probably one of my least favorite songs on the album.
- “Falls to Climb”: This is a good closer.
Final Verdict: This was one that had to grow on me. After a few listens, I liked it better than when I first listened.
New Adventures in Hi-Fi was the last album to feature Bill Berry, who left amicably due to his health, and the last album produced by Scott Litt. The album had 4 singles, and reached #2 in the US and #1 in the UK.
- “How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us”: This is a beautiful start, with a great melancholy atmosphere.
- “The Wake-Up Bomb”: This song just rocks. It has a great rhythm.
- “New Test Leper”: Peter was surprised by the reaction to this song, as it was critical of Christianity. He said “It’s not like we ripped up.a picture of the Pope.”, referencing when Sinead O’Connor did the same on an episode of Saturday Night Live.
- “Undertow”: I love the guitar on this one.
- “E-Bow the Letter”: I love Patti Smith’s voice on this, and the cello is excellent. One of the best songs.
- “Leave”: I don’t like the weird noises throughout the song.
- “Departure”: This has some good drumming.
- “Bittersweet Me.” I like the rhythm and guitar for this. It’s another favorite.
- “Be Mine”: This isn’t a bad song. I like Michael’s vocals.
- “Binky the Doormat”: This has a good fuzzy guitar.
- “Zither”: A nice, soft interlude.
- “So Fast, So Numb”: This has great drumming. One of the best songs.
- “Low Desert”: Mike has a great bass hook.
- “Electrolite”: This is a beautiful closer with a nice piano.
Final Verdict: This is still one of my favorite R.E.M. albums.
Monster marked a new sound for R.E.M. The album had 5 singles, and went to #1 in both the US and the UK. The album was promoted with R.E.M.’S first tour since 1989, which caused several health issues.
- “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” This song’s title is a reference to a New York incident in which Dan Rather was attacked by assailants and said “Kenneth, what’s the frequency?” Most of the songs on this album have a distorted sound to them, rather than the two previous albums’ usage of pianos, mandolins, and acoustic guitar. I like the tempo on this one, and even though Stipe’s vocals are pushed back in the mix, I still have little trouble understanding the lyrics. Great start.
- “Crush With Eyeliner”: I like the bouncy rhythm on this one. It has a fun glam sound.
- “King of Comedy”: Another song with a good glam edge to it. This has a good bass hook.
- “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream”: This has a more softened feel, with subdued distortion. One of my favorite deep cuts.
- “Star 69”: This has a great fast pace to it. For those who didn’t live in the 90’s, Star 69 was an early pre-caller ID feature. If you pressed star and the numbers 6 and 9 after getting hung up, you could find out who called you.
- “Strange Currencies”: This one is just beautiful, with a slower feel than the previous songs.
- “Tongue”: Stipe sings in a falsetto on this to match the feminine protagonist. I’m not really a fan of this one, as I don’t like his voice.
- “Bang and Blame”: This is one of my favorite songs. I like the changes in rhythm.
- “I Took Your Name”: The guitars on this are tight. I love this song’s mix.
- “Let Me In”: Another song I never cared for.
- “Circus Envy”: This has another fast tempo to it. I didn’t like it the first time I listened, but it grew on me.
- “You”: This sounds a little weird to me.
Final Verdict: This is a bit of a grower overall. I had to listen to the album a few more times than usual to get a feel for it. I don’t think it’s their best work, but I do enjoy revisting it.
Automatic For the People was the first R.E.M. album I ever heard in full. It is included in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. The album features orchestral arrangements from John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame. It had 6 singles, and reached #2 in the USA and #1 in the UK. While not necessarily a concept album, the songs are unified by themes on mourning, mortality, and loss.
- “Drive”: This song was inspired by the “Motor Voter” bill, and is telling the listeners to take charge of their lives, and let “nobody tell you what to do.” It’s an excellent mood-setter.
- “Try Not to Breathe”: I like the orchestra on this. It has a good melancholy feel to it.
- “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite”: Peter Buck doesn’t care for this song. It was influenced by “The Lion Sleeps Tonite”, a cover of which was included as a B-side on the single. I think it’s all right.
- “Everybody Hurts”: This is a beautiful song that is telling you not to end your life, because everyone goes through rough times. I love to play this song when I’m feeling depressed.
- “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1”: A quick interlude that I kind of like.
- “Sweetness Follows”: This song has some nice instrumentation.
- “Monty Got a Raw Deal”: Peter has some excellent guitar work on this.
- “Ignoreland”: This song attacks Ronald Reagan’s economic policies during both of his terms of office, which we are still paying for to this day. Scott Litt plays a good hamonica on this.
- “Star Me Kitten”: I don’t think this is a bad song, but it’s not a favorite.
- “Man in the Moon”: This is a tribute to Andy Kaufman, and inspired the title of the biopic about Kaufman that starred Jim Carrey. It’s another favorite.
- “Nightswimming”: This song has a beautiful piano composed by Mills. The song has a nostalgic feel to it as it narrates a story of memories of swimming naked.
- “Find the River”: This is a gorgeous closer.
Final Verdict: This album is a masterpiece from start to finish. One of the best albums of the 90’s!
R.E.M. was now an international phenomenon. Alternative music was about to blow up, as 1991 was the year it took storm, with albums like Nirvana’s Nevermind, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger for example. This album won R.E.M. their first Grammy (Best Alternative Album), had four singles, and went to the top of the charts in both the UK and the US. But is this album really that good? Um…
- “Radio Song”: Look, I love KRS-One. And the song has a good case. But Public Enemy did the same topic better with “How to Kill a Radio Consultant”. KRS-One is literally all over this song, and he ruins it. If he’d only done his rap at the end and laid off the “baby-baby-baby” it might’ve been better.
- “Losing My Religion “: Why wasn’t this song at the start? This is is a beautiful song. This is what we should’ve started with!
- “Low”: What a snoozer. Next.
- “Near Wild Heaven”: This song is fine. It’s not terrible.
- “Endgame”: The guitar is decent on this.
- “Shiny Happy People”: This song just doesn’t work. Kate Pierson’s guest vocals are fine, but it’s too happy for its irony. Maybe if Fred Schneider was on this?
- “Belong”: I can barely hear the vocals on this, and it’s more boring than “Low”.
- “Half a World Away”: This is OK.
- “Texarkana”: Can we please stop letting Mike sing lead? He sounds terrible!
- “Country Feedback”: The best song on side 2. It’s too bad we had to wait so long for a good song.
- “Me in Honey”: Of the two songs Kate is on, this is the better one. The guitar is great, and she and Stipe sound great together.
Final Verdict: What happened? I’d question the Academy selecting this album, but we all know how clueless they are. They gave a Grammy to C+C Music Factory, for crying out loud! I’d pretty much forgotten about this one. The singles are all fine, but they’re not enough.
Green is R.E.M.’s first album with Warner Bros, as they had severed ties with IRS. The band was much different now. The album made it to #12 in the US and #27 in the UK. It had four singles, and was their second with Scott Lit.
- “Pop Song 89”: This is a great satire of how stale pop songs can be. The video for the song featured Stipe and three female dancers, all of whom were topless, and MTV wanted it censored. Stipe even censored his chest to mock the demands. It’s a fun song.
- “Get Up”: The comedy continues with this song poking fun at Mills’ constant oversleeping. It’s not as good as “Pop Song”, but I don’t hate it.
- “You Are the Everything”: A nice ballad that doesn’t feel out of place.
- “Stand”: This is another song that’s meant to be an ironic pop somg. It was parodied by Weird Al on his UHF soundtrack, with the song “Spam”.
- “World Leader Pretend”: When I listen to this, I like to picture Lex Luthor finally defeating Superman, but he can’t even enjoy his victory because the world is now a smoldering cinder.
- “The Wrong Child”: This has a good bassline to it.
- “Orange Crush”: Stipe’s father was a Vietnam soldier, and this song references Agent Orange. The video won R.E.M. their first VMA, back when those awards were actually something people cared about.
- “Turn You Inside Out”: This has a cool hard edge to it.
- “Hairshirt”: This song is just beautiful and melancholy.
- “I Remember California”: This is a great somber tune.
- “Untitled”: I can almost forgive this song for not having a proper title because I like the percussion.
Final Verdict: All the irony on this album may be out of character, but I still think it’s an excellent album.
Document was the first album produced by Scott Litt, marking a huge change in their sound. The sound was now much harder. The album became their highest-charting album at that point, entering right at #10 with 3 singles.
- “Finest Worksong”: This hits hard right out the gate with some good guitar work.
- “Welcome to the Occupation”: This is probably my #1 favorite song on the album. It has a cool minor key sound. It’s a great deep cut.
- “Exhuming McCarthy”: This song references the censorship and witch hunt that Joseph McCarthy used to “out” people he thought were communists.
- “Disturbance at the Heron House”: This was R.E.M.’s first time attacking right-wing politics. Heron House is a reference to the legislative body in Austria and Prussia, seeming to compare them to Reagan, who Buck considered a moron.
- “Strange”: This is a cover of one of the quick-riff songs Wire recorded on their celebrated album Pink Flag. I call it that because Wire’s m.o. seemed to be getting a quick riff and then ending the song.
- “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” This song has often been mocked for Stipe’s rapid-fire stream of consciousness. Buck has said the song was inspired by “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. In 2001, it was one of many songs Clear Channel tried to pull off the radio as a result of 9/11.
- “The One I Love”: I hear people actually think this is a good song for weddings. Have you listened to the lyrics? At all? All kidding aside, this is a great song.
- “Fireplace”: I saw somewhere that this song is about acceptance and burning down the old ways. There’s a nice sax in it too.
- “Lightnin’ Hopkins”: This song has nothing to do with the legendary blues singer it’s named after. Buck just happened to have one of Hopkins’ records.
- “King of Birds”: Peter Buck plays a soft dulcimer on this. Not exactly something you’d normally hear in a rock song.
- “Oddfellows Local 151”: This song is about homeless people who lurk around an abandoned firehouse.
Final Verdict: R.E.M. started their peak with this album, and the world was finally noticing.
Lifes Rich Pageant was R.E.M.’s final album on the IRS label. The album was produced by Don Gehman, who had previously worked with John Mellancamp. The album marked a transition into a more “accessible” sound. It had two singles, and charted at #21 in the US and #43 in the UK.
- “Begin the Begin”: the album starts with this aptly-named song. Although it was not a single, it became a concert staple and was even featured on the sets for their inductions into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and the Rock Hall of Fame. This song has good political themes about racism.
- “These Days”: This song has good drumming in it. It’s a good song about struggling underneath capitalism.
- “Fall On Me”: This song was my introduction to R.E.M., and they didn’t even appear in the video. This is one of two environmentally-themed songs on the album.
- “Cuyahoga”: This is about the pollution of the titular Ohio river and the plight of the Native American tribes. It’s my favorite song on the album., with some good harmonies.
- “Hyena”: This has a good piano intro.
- “Underneath the Bunker”: this is one of two hidden tracks, and is mostly just a guitar track with some filtered vocals from Stipe. I’m glad it’s short.
- “The Flowers of Guatemala”: This is a beautiful song that feels like it would fit in on Murmur at first, with soft vocals and some pretty guitar melodies.
- “I Believe”: A quick banjo starts things off before we get a good jangling tempo.
- “What If We Give It Away”: This was a song that was rewritten from an earlier album. I like the harmonies on this from Stipe and Buck.
- “Just a Touch”: This has a nice fast rhythm from Berry.
- “Swan Swan H”: I like the minor melody of this one. It has a feel like a folk ballad to me.
- “Superman”: Stipe didn’t want to record this song, which may explain why he’s not singing lead, and why it’s a hidden track. It’s actually a cover of an obscure band called The Clique. I don’t much care for the vocals, but I like the melody.
Final Verdict: This album is very underrated, almost feeling like it gets lost in the shadow of the next album. But it’s still worth checking out.
Fables of the Reconstruction was the first album recorded outside the United States, as it was recorded in the UK. Its producer was Joe Boyd. The album had a Southern Gothic theme, and had three singles. The album reached #28 in the US, and #35 in the UK.
- “Feeling Gravitys Pull”: The album starts with this great hard-edged track. The guitar has a good rough sound to them. The song is about falling asleep while reading.
- “Maps and Legends”: This song was dedicated to Rev. Howard Finster, who designed the sleeve for the previous album. It has a good jangle to it. I like the harmony from Mills.
- “Driver 8”: This song has some rural imagery in it. It has a good tempo. This song’s video received lots of MTV airplay, although we still have a ways to go before R.E.M.’s breakthrough.
- “Life and How to Live It”: This has a soft, folksy feel to it, a good contrast from the previous songs.
- “Old Man Kesey”: This song was cod written by Stipe’s friend Jeremy Ayers. It’s got a good rhythm.
- “Cant Get There From Here”: This song is such a banger! I think this is where R.E.M. starts to get good.
- Green Grow the Rushes”: This song alludes to a folk song and was something both Michael and (now) former 10,000 Maniacs lead singer Natalie Merchant did by both writing songs about the genocide of the Native Americans.
- “Kohoutek”: This song is named after the comet, and is one of their earliest love songs.
- “Auctioneer (Another Engine)”: This has a good edge to it.
- “Good Advices”: Another good song with some strong lyrics from Stipe about trust.
- “Wendell Gee”: Peter Buck hated this song, saying the banjo solo was the only good part. Even so, it has a good piano solo.
Final Verdict: This album has some signs of the darker tones REM adopted on later albums. This is a good start for R.E.M.’s growth.