I’m going to break with the reviewer ranks here and tell you that the new reissue of R.E.M.’s 1988 major label debut isn’t about reinvention. Green is a refinement of what was already in progress. In other words, this is a natural sequel to 1987’s Document. And that’s weird because they don’t do sequels. They do whole, newly born unique animals, or at least they used to.
Green and Document are tied together in sound. The live set included in disc two proves this more than anything. It lies in the moody jangle clang scrape of Pete Buck’s guitar. Songs that were road tested during the Document tour appear on Green in less sinister incarnations (“Orange Crush” & “Pop Song 89”), but there is no mistaking the era of their birth. The other connecting thread lies in Stipe’s lyrics. This is not the happy yang to Document’s yin, but rather another tour in bleak questioning. Take a seemingly peppy song like “Get Up”. Sure, there’s some chirpy backing vocals muting the guitar chug riffage (look up the demo version on you tube if you don’t believe me) but the lyrics are unquestionably downer introspectives. “Dreams, they complicate my life”. Snuck that bastard right in there. “Pop Song 89” is equally sweet and sour on the matters of relating to others. People that pass through and barely register after the small talk is over.
Earthquakes, alienation, exploitation. Have you ever known somebody to smile when they are extremely uncomfortable and say shit’s fine? It’s kind of like that. But there was a lot of attention and hoo haw for this Warner Brothers show pony and who wanted to say “This one’s going to harsh your mellow”?
I wonder how “I Remember California” and “Turn You Inside Out” went over with the executives. It must have been squirm city in the face of that dirgy maw.
A song like “World Leader Pretend” does suggest a leap forward in studio craft, live however, it’s revealed to be more Document era jangle akin to “Disturbance At The Heron House” which is not a bad thing, but again, it’s refinement not reinvention. “Stand”, a song that wore out faster than the other album tracks, isn’t that far removed from “Exhuming McCarthy” in its dumb pop song catchiness.
Finally, “You Are The Everything”, “Hairshirt”, “The Wrong Child”, and “Untitled” seem like the most un-R.E.M. like, but even that’s untrue. This road was paved previously by the likes of ”Swan Swan H” and “King of Birds”. The acoustic side was always there, just not really explored.
Green is a taking stock record. The back cover art says it all. Count the rings of the tree. Layers. The past opened up for you to assess. This is the album’s power, everything that they do well is on display here. It’s perfectly balanced the way a good album should be. Hills and valleys.
You may already own this album but that bonus live album slays and is not to be missed. (Just don’t forget the five extra tracks that aren’t on the cd release that are available via iTunes.)