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.
Monster is indeed R.E.M.'s long-promised "rock" album; it just doesn't rock in the way one might expect. Instead of R.E.M.'s trademark anthemic bashers, Monster offers a set of murky sludge powered by the heavily distorted and delayed guitar of Peter Buck. Michael Stipe's vocals have been pushed to the back of the mix, along with Bill Berry's drums, which accentuates the muscular pulse of Buck's chords…
In October 2018, Robert Glasper settled into the Blue Note club in NYC for a month-long residency several nights of which featured the new dream team collective R+R=NOW with Glasper on keys, Terrace Martin on synthesizer, vocoder, and alto saxophone, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah on trumpet, Derrick Hodge on bass, Taylor McFerrin on synthesizer, and Justin Tyson on drums. The band had recently released their debut album Collagically Speaking and the music had already taken on expansive new dimensions in concert as evidenced on R+R=NOW Live, a thrilling live recording with standout tracks including “Respond,” “Change of Tone,” “Resting Warrior,” and a cover of Kendrick Lamar’s “How Much a Dollar Cost.”
R.E.M. began to move toward mainstream record production on Lifes Rich Pageant, but they didn't have a commercial breakthrough until the following year's Document. Ironically, Document is a stranger, more varied album than its predecessor, but co-producer Scott Litt – who would go on to produce every R.E.M. album in the following decade – is a better conduit for the band than Don Gehman, giving the group a clean sound without sacrificing their enigmatic tendencies. "Finest Worksong," the stream-of-conscious rant "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," and the surprise Top Ten single "The One I Love" all crackle with muscular rhythms and guitar riffs, but the real surprise is how political the mid-tempo jangle pop of "Welcome to the Occupation," "Disturbance at the Heron House," and "King of Birds" is.