Continuing on in their vein of releasing incredible reissues with awesome bonus material, R.E.M.’s 25th Anniversary Edition of Lifes Rich Pageant is coming out July 12th. The album that gave us R.E.M. staples “Fall On Me,” “Begin the Begin” and their cover of The Clique’s “Superman” was originally released in 1986 and showed a somewhat different side of the Athens alternative pioneers. They built upon their previous three full lengths with a new producer (Don Gehman) and a new location (John Mellencamp’s Belmont Mall Studios in Indiana), which resulted in a more punchy, polished version of their sound. They knew there was no need to try and reinvent the wheel, but the few new things they tried helped earn R.E.M. their first gold record. The biggest difference between Lifes Rich Pageant and its predecessors is the clarity of Michael Stipe’s voice. Right off the bat, opening track “Begin the Begin” showcases Michael’s unmistakable tone and delivery in way that you can actually understand him as he name drops Myles Standish and Martin Luther as only he can. R.E.M. was also emerging from the Athens underground with their lyrical content, as their attention to environmental concerns can be seen popping up in songs like “Cuyahoga” and “Fall On Me.” With Lifes Rich Pageant, R.E.M. was able to successfully bridge the gap between college rock and the mainstream without compromising what it was that makes them so special and so unique.
R.E.M. really knows how to do the reissue thing with style and so once again, they give us an extra disc of demos and unreleased songs to go along with the remastered album. The Athens Demos is a collection of 19 songs that were recorded in the lead up to the Lifes Rich Pageant recording sessions. Demos for all 11 original songs from the album are present, along with 6 other songs that would eventually surface on other albums or singles and one track, “Wait,” that R.E.M. has never released. I always nerd out for a look into the songwriting process of artist that I admire, so it’s cool to see these songs in various stages of completion. For example, on the demo for “Fall On Me,” the chorus we know and love is already present, while the verse sounds nothing like how it would end up on the album. Some other “not quite ready” lyrics are present in the hummed verses of “I Believe” and in “Get On Their Way,” which would eventually become “What If We Give It Away?” in its finalized form. Of the demos that didn’t make it on to Lifes Rich Pageant, “All The Right Friends” was rerecorded in 2001 for the movie Vanilla Sky and “Bad Day” was eventually rerecorded in 2003 where it became a hit for their In Time compilation. On top of all the great song sketches, it’s also really cool to hear the background chatter, coughs and studio noises sprinkled into tracks like “These Days” and “I Believe.” The great remastering job on Lifes Rich Pageant is enough to pick up the reissue, but the addition of The Athens Demos truly makes it a no-brainer for any R.E.M. fan.
The 25th Anniversary edition of Lifes Rich Pageant will be released on July 12th.