I first discovered R.E.M. when I was at High School in Princeton, New Jersey for the Spring Semester of 1988. Their latest album, Document, was perhaps more accessible than previous work, with lyrics that almost made sense and more radio-friendly tunes; none more so than The One I Love and It’s The End of The World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine). The first of these had for some reason gained traction as a Prom Night favourite (perhaps the greatest misreading of a song since Every Breath You Take), while the latter was a favourite of mine, as I spent hours trying to get all the words down…
The following year I bought their next album Green, and it’s still my favourite of their albums. It evokes massively rich memories of the Spring and Summer of 1989, both my first year at university and of an Inter-railing trip around Europe, for which it was the dominant soundtrack on the overnight trains or basking in the sunshine in continental city parks.
I love a lot about this brilliant album: the acerbic lyrics hidden within seemingly simple songs, a tremendous blend of the plaintive with angry with sinister. I love the bright orange cover for an album titled ‘Green’. I love the juxtaposition of leaves & fossils against telegraph poles. Most of all, I love the songs.
Pop Song 89 is a belting start to the album with lyrics that remind me of The Beautiful South’s Song for Whoever.
Hello, I saw you, I know you, I knew you, I think I can remember your name.
Hello, I’m sorry, I lost myself. I think I thought you were someone else.
Should we talk about the weather? Should we talk about the Government?
Get Up follows on in the same vein, with a strong jumping beat and references to Michael Stipe’s ongoing dream theme…
Dreams they complicate my life, dreams they complement my life…
You Are The Everything is one of the most beautiful songs I can think of, depicting (for me) a child’s-eye view of the world, travelling and falling asleep in the back of a car, gazing out of the window at the night sky…
The stars are the greatest thing you’ve ever seen and they’re there for you,
For you alone,
You are the everything.
I can clearly remember lying on a grimy bunk in a shabby but cheap hostel in Barcelona on a hot summer evening listening to this over and over. I was missing my girlfriend and, despite having a brilliant time, I wanted to see her. When I returned from the trip, it was clear all was not well, and she dumped me only a few weeks later.
Stand is almost like a children’s playground or skipping song in its chanting simplicity, but beneath that facade seems to lurk biting comments about patriotism & nationalism. Maybe.
World Leader Pretend is the only song whose lyrics are printed inside the album artwork. It’s darker than the previous songs, with brooding cellos and downbeat lyrics. It always struck me as a commentary on US policies; defiant, petulant, isolated
I sit at my table and wage war on myself…
This is my world and I am World Leader Pretend,
This is my life, and this is my time.
I have been given the freedom to do as I see fit…
The Wrong Child features wonderful mandolin playing and heartbreaking layers of overlapping lyrics about children playing
I’m not supposed to be like this… let’s try to find a happy game to play
I’m not supposed to be like this, but it’s OK…
Orange Crush was the Big Hit Single from the album, an attack on the destruction of swathes of Eastern Asia by Agent Orange. Militaristic rat-a-tat drums and clanging guitars back up some potent lyrics.
We are agents of The Free,
I’ve had my fun and now it’s time to spread your conscience overseas…
Turn You Inside Out is another sinister, angry-sounding song that sounds most like some of Document, insistent guitars, layers of vocals and pounding drums…
I could turn you inside out but I choose not to do…
…I believe in what you do, I believe in watching you…
Hairshirt is a shift in tone, back to more gentle plucked mandolin and perhaps the most opaque words on the album
Here I am, here I am in your life
It’s a beautiful life, My life
It’s a beautiful life, Your life
I Remember California seems like a(nother) lament for something that has been or will soon be lost, before the final Untitled track that is simply perfect, a poignant love song that could work equally for a partner as for the world itself, and in the light of the rest of the album I’ve always seen this as ‘Green’ call to action…
This world is big and so awake
I stayed up late to hear your voice
This light is here to keep you warm
This song is here to keep you strong
I made a list of things to say but all I really want to say
All I really want to say is
Hold her and keep him strong while I’m away from here
Hold her and keep her strong while I’m away from here
I love Green from start to finish. 41 minutes of brilliant writing and playing, arranging and producing of deeply intelligent, sensitive songs.