R.E.M. – Green

GreenWhen R.E.M. set out to record Green, they knew it would be their first album for their new label, Warner Bros. They also knew that it would be the foundation of a worldwide arena tour designed to boost their global profile. It’s not surprising, then, that they produced a number of songs that refined the political rock songs of Document into an even more radio- and arena-friendly form. But if for no other reason than to keep themselves interested, they began experimenting with switching instruments and acoustic arrangements. The mix of silly pop songs and political introspection makes Green sometimes seem out of sorts, but it’s also not hard to see how the album helped take the band to a new level of popularity.

The first two songs, “Pop Song 89” and “Get Up,” definitely seem made for an arena rock show, more power pop than jangle pop. The songs feature strong melodies with simple, repetitive choruses and the occasional instrumental quirk, such as the dozen music boxes chiming in the middle of “Get Up.” The band uses the formula to perfection on the fourth track, “Stand,” whose goofy lyrics, guitar solo, video and associated dance made for a memorable presence on Top 40 radio at the time. (In fact, I can still remember where I was the first time I heard “Stand” on the radio – also the first time I had ever heard of R.E.M.)

Tracks 3, 5 and 6 show that Green is not all about fun and games. “You Are the Everything” features Bill Berry on bass, Mike Mills on accordion, and one of Peter Buck’s first experiments with mandolin. It’s a very spare, quiet song, one that literally opens with the sound of crickets chirping. It’s one of the things I like most about the song; it feels like you’re hearing each note and lyric on its own, as Stipe’s protagonist unburdens himself of his fears and imaginings. “World Leader Pretend,” meanwhile, is more complex in its arrangements, but features the same kind of introspection and mustering of resolve. There’s no mumbling from Stipe here; in fact, he felt so strongly about the lyrics to this song that they were printed on the liner notes, the only time that would happen until Up. “The Wrong Child” has a similar simplicity to “You Are the Everything,” but whereas the latter evokes the quiet beauty of nature, the former is a little more grating and discordant, befitting its lyrics; the song’s protagonist is a child with some kind of illness or physical problem that cuts him off from other children. Once upon a time, it was my least favorite song on the album, but it’s really grown on me over the years.

rating: 4 out of 4 The album heads back into rock territory with “Orange Crush,” but there’s far more edge and intensity to this song than the shinier pop songs that opened the album. The band’s rhythm section does a nice job of giving this song, whose lyrics evoke the specter of Agent Orange and the psychological and environmental legacies of war, a sense of marching forward into whatever the fates have in store. Even fifteen years later, this song packs a heck of a punch in the band’s live show. The album slows down again for the final three listed tracks, although only “Hairshirt” has the same kind of acoustic sensibility as “You Are the Everything” and “The Wrong Child.”

There is also an eleventh untitled track, which features Buck on drums – Berry claimed the drum part Buck had written was so full of mistakes that he’d be unable to perfectly replicate them for an entire song. It’s a great closing track, and Berry’s fears notwithstanding, I even think the drum part’s kinda nifty.

Order this CD

  1. Pop Song 89 (3:03)
  2. Pop Song 89 (3:03)
  3. Get Up (2:35)
  4. You Are the Everything (3:45)
  5. Stand (3:10)
  6. World Leader Pretend (4:15)
  7. The Wrong Child (3:35)
  8. Orange Crush (3:50)
  9. Turn You Inside-Out (4:15)
  10. Hairshirt (3:55)
  11. I Remember California (5:05)
  12. Untitled (3:15)

Released by: Warner Bros.
Release date: 1988
Total running time: 41:00