Green (Remastered 2013)

Green (Remastered 2013)

Released in 1988, Green marked R.E.M.’s sixth album in as many years—an output made possible by the fact that all four band members were songwriters. On the group’s high-speed voyage from a weird, beloved alternative rock band to mainstream stardom, R.E.M. lost thousands of fans—but gained millions more, a process that only accelerated with Green. Singer Michael Stipe had mixed feelings about being on the charts beside Def Leppard and INXS, which is apparent in the opening track. “Pop Song 89” is a pop song that makes fun of pop songs for being vapid, and seems to doubt the entire enterprise of communication. It’s rescued from self-consciousness by Stipe’s droll ad-libs, Mike Mills’ fuzzed-out bass, and Peter Buck’s whipsaw guitar licks. Stipe said “Pop Song 89” and “Stand,” which follows three songs later, were two of the band’s “fruit loop songs”—by which he meant they were colorful, overly sweet, and longer on sensation than nutrition. “Get Up” and “Turn You Inside-Out” turn back the clock and return to the group’s earlier sound, as does “World Leader Pretend,” until a cello line (played by Jane Scarpantoni) and pedal steel guitar (by Bucky Baxter) ease up out of the arrangement. For every look back, the band members wanted to take two steps forward, which could mean anything from finding new chord progressions to introducing new instruments. So Peter Buck plays mandolin on three songs—and even takes up the drums on “Untitled”—while drummer Bill Berry switches to bass on a few numbers, allowing bassist Mike Mills to play keyboards and accordion. The lyrics on Green often dwell on contradiction, so in “Orange Crush,” which Stipe said was about a bon vivant who goes off to serve in Vietnam, the chorus presents two options—“Follow me/Don’t follow me”—and doesn’t favor either one, and in “World Leader Pretend,” a solitary character boasts about his sophisticated level of self-awareness, but the wisdom doesn’t seem to be helping him. R.E.M.’s album-a-year pace ended here, and when they returned three years later, it was clear that Green was a tentative first draft of a new sound based on the polar opposites of celebratory pop and moody acoustic ballads.

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