R.E.M. – Lifes Rich Pageant

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  • This outstanding copy of the band’s fourth studio album boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – fairly quiet too
  • You’ll hear more energy and more immediacy, plus an extra shot of analog richness that really ties the sound together
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Where previous records kept the rhythm section in the background, Pageant emphasizes the beat, and the band turns in its hardest rockers to date… the band sound more contemporary both musically and lyrically than they did on either Fables or Murmur, which helps give the record an extra kick.”

This vintage I.R.S. pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

It’s not easy to find R.E.M. albums with great sound, but we were pleasantly surprised recently when a copy of one we’d picked up hit the table. We’ve done shootouts for Murmur in the past, and while it can sound quite good on the best pressings, it may not get into the same league as the best copies of this album.

The Allmusic review notes the “cleaner production” of this recording, and the best copies really put that on display.

What the best sides of Lifes Rich Pageant have to offer is not hard to hear:

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes even as late as 1986
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We’re Listening For on Lifes Rich Pageant

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Begin The Begin
These Days
Fall On Me
Cuyahoga
Hyena
Underneath The Bunker

Side Two

The Flowers Of Guatemala
I Believe
What If We Give It Away?
Just A Touch
Swan Swan H
Superman

AMG 4 1/2 Star Review

Fables of the Reconstruction was intentionally murky, and Lifes Rich Pageant was constructed as its polar opposite. Teaming with producer Don Gehman, who previously worked with John Mellencamp, R.E.M. developed their most forceful record to date. Where previous records kept the rhythm section in the background, Pageant emphasizes the beat, and the band turns in its hardest rockers to date, including the anthemic “Begin the Begin” and the punky “Just a Touch.”

But the cleaner production also benefits the ballads and the mid-tempo janglers, particularly since it helps reveal Michael Stipe’s growing political obsessions, especially on the environmental anthems “Fall on Me” and “Cuyahoga.” The group hasn’t entirely left myths behind — witness the Civil War ballad “Swan Swan H” — but the band sound more contemporary both musically and lyrically than they did on either Fables or Murmur, which helps give the record an extra kick.

And even with excellent songs like “I Believe,” “Flowers of Guatemala,” “These Days,” and “What if We Give It Away,” it’s ironic that the most memorable moment comes from the garage rock obscurity “Superman,” which is sung with glee by Mike Mills.

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