R.E.M. – Green

Green (1988)

C+

1. Pop Song 89 2. Get Up 3. You Are The Everything 4. Stand 5. World Leader Pretend 6. The Wrong Child 7. Orange Crush 8. Turn You Inside-Out 9. Hairshirt 10. I Remember California 11. Untitled

 

Imagine you’re an REM fan in 1988 and your favorite band are big time hotshots now cause they’ve just signed to a gigantic record label and are about to take over the world and you’re all excited and then you’re listening to the radio and their new single comes on and it’s this dipshit novelty bubblegum song that sounds like it was meant to be sung by Big Bird to teach children about the directions on a compass. What the hell would you do? “Stand in the place where you are, turn off the radio and wonder what the fuck happened to REM,” probably. It seems that once the boys got a taste of the big time with “The One I Love,” they couldn’t get enough of it and decided to leap headfirst into the business of making hit singles (not to mention playing arenas, which they started doing for the first time on their tour to support Green). The result? “Stand.” And there was no coming back from it.

Unfortunately, I lack taste and am a sucker for stupid pop songs. Thus, I am unashamed to admit that I love the snot out of “Stand,” as well as “Pop Song 89,” with its supercatchy lead guitar motif, and “Get Up,” with its synchronized music box breakdown and lyrics about Mills’ penchant for falling asleep in the studio. They are barrels of fuzzy power pop fun and by far the best three songs on the album. When most people think about REM’s big Sell Out, they probably have songs like these in mind, but the fact that it has catchy pop songs on it is very far from the problem with Green. The rest of the album just sounds like REM on autopilot, uninspired and uncatchy. The mix is flat and lacking in any power, even on the rockers, and Stipe sounds bored already after his uberconfident Document performance. The political urgency of the last two records is gone (except for “Orange Crush,” I suppose)… “Should we talk about the weather/should we talk about the government” is one of the first lines on the album and it truly sounds as though Michael could care less about which you choose. He wanted us to believe that he made some sort of important artistic leap with “World Leader Pretend,” seeing as he allowed the lyrics to be printed in the gatefold/CD booklet (the first time he’d done that, and the only song on the album for which the lyrics appeared). But, uh… why? Because it’s metaphorical? I guess it’s smart enough to fool the same people who think “The One I Love” is a romantic love song into thinking it’s some sort of anti-war song (ie not actually that smart), when it’s really about a guy sitting at his kitchen table using military analogies to describe his schizophrenia or something. Musically, it’s a languid strumalong that resembles some of the lesser tracks on Fables, except with fuller instrumentation, though I give it credit for being one of those rare songs where the bridge is actually better than the rest of it (thank you, pedal steel part!).

Buck sounds pretty disinterested too, seeing as he hasn’t bothered to come up with almost any actual riffs at all and is mostly just playing standard I-IV-V progressions on every song. I’ll cut him some slack and concede that he was too busy learning to play the mandolin to come up with good guitar parts. But even though the mandolin sort of became REM’s signature instrument during their ’88-’92 commercial peak, which timbre-wise set them apart from the pack, Buck didn’t bother learning more than three chords on it either, and it especially shows on Green’s mandolin tracks. “You Are The Everything” is actually quite pretty, mostly thanks to Stipe’s melodramatic “sensitive guy” selling of it on vocals, but “The Wrong Child” (Stipe came up with two lackluster vocal melodies and couldn’t decide which one he hated less so he just kept both of them on the final track, which sounds completely retarded) and “Hairshirt” (Buck tepidly strums chords in a random order as Stipe delivers an improvised, one-take, melody-less vocal), um, aren’t.

The other big hit besides “Stand” was the military rocker “Orange Crush,” which I don’t care for at all, since it’s pretty much just an inferior retread of the “The One I Love” formula and I was already sick of that one so there you go. It’s indicative of the other non-power pop guitar rockers on here, which are, in a word, ugly, and aren’t helped by the fact that the mix is so lacking in dynamics that whenever the band attempts to sound “foreboding” they just sound like moody, impotent librarians. Like “Turn You Inside-Out,” a grating, grotesquely sung (“I believe in watching you?” Ew!) rewrite of “Finest Worksong” that drags on for far too long, and the interminable “I Remember California,” which features the most unpleasant riff Buck could think of and drags on for even longer. There’s just barely anything that’s catchy about these songs – they could’ve used a little more “Stand” in them.

Fortunately there’s a return to poppiness and a slight reprieve at the end with the untitled closing hidden track, which sounds like something Pete Townshend might have discarded from one of his early 80’s solo albums and put on of the Scoop records, but it’s mostly memorable just because of how weird and blocky they made it sound by having Buck and Berry switch instruments. But it makes it clear that light pop songs were all that was really working for REM at this point, so they’d have to run with it and see where it took them.



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