[DVD-Audio / CD Edition]
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2005, Volume 12, #3
Written by John Metzger
R.E.M. must have known that it would take a lot of shit for jumping from I.R.S. to Warner Bros., but when the former indie outfit opted to begin its subsequent effort Green with a tune titled Pop Song 89 — as ironically intended as this may have been — it almost seemed to be begging for controversy. Not that R.E.M. had much to lose — after all, portions of its rabid base of fans had been accusing the collective of selling out since the release of its second album, while the rest of its devoted disciples would have followed it anywhere. Although the ensemble eventually did succumb to chasing the market rather than leading it — most egregiously via Monster’s boisterous, post-grunge reiterations of its back catalog — Green captured the sound of a band that was still marching to the beat of its own drum.
Situated between Document and Out of Time, there’s no question that Green was a transitional affair, which isn’t terribly surprising considering that R.E.M. found itself with both a major label budget as well as a hankering to experiment. In crafting the outing, the group jettisoned its typical approach to recording, and it essentially did everything it could to escape from its past by tinkering with compositional structure and swapping instruments among its members. This, quite naturally, lent a playful air to the proceedings, and the end result proved to be better than even the band members themselves expected. Indeed, there was a lushness to many of Green’s songs — wisps of pedal steel courtesy of Bucky Baxter curled around World Leader Pretend; a bit of Beatle-esque psychedelia in the form of a music box motif was stuffed inside Get Up; and The Wrong Child unveiled its dissonant folk with symphonic, Simon & Garfunkel-esque precision — and the arrangements’ complexities alluded to the directions that the group would pursue on its future efforts.
That’s not to say that Green wasn’t without its flaws. For starters, the concluding tune — commonly known among R.E.M.’s fans as 11 — endures as a notable slice of history, simply because it was the first hidden track to be featured on a mainstream album. The larger problem that pervaded the effort, however, was Michael Stipe’s lyrics, which were still in the early stages of maturation. While he was beginning to understand how to construct poetry that embraced double- or triple-edged meanings, he also had a tendency to pen stream-of-consciousness musings that were inscrutably oblique. Still, a few themes did succeed in bubbling to the surface — even if they didn’t completely coalesce — and much of Green dealt with the notions of coming to terms with one’s place in the world as both a caretaker and societal member and empowering the masses via thoughtful dialogue rather than restraining them with rote rhetoric. Taken in total, the music and lyrics mixed genuine concern with hopeful optimism while exploring the bittersweet duality of naVveté and a loss of innocence.
Green — along with eight of R.E.M.’s other outings — recently has been repackaged with a bonus DVD that holds a surround sound mix of the complete album as well as a handful of other pertinent curiosities. Granted, much of the bonus material — which, in the case of Green, includes the videos for Orange Crush and Stand; previously unreleased interview footage with Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, and Mike Mills; and an excerpt from Tourfilm — merely adds color to its respective collection, but like most offerings of this sort, it nonetheless does provide an enjoyable retrospective. The real treat, then, is the DVD-Audio feature, which is playable on most systems. In stretching the field of sound to fill a room, the crisp, sonic clarity of the new version plunges the listener into the middle of a captivating, multi-dimensional universe around which the assorted instrumentation flutters and floats. In the process, one is immediately awestruck with the notion that not only is this precisely the manner in which Green was meant to be heard, but it also is instantly apparent that the creative process surrounding the effort served as the key that unlocked a special door behind which sat a new world where everything that followed, from Out of Time through Around the Sun, became possible.
Of Further Interest...
Green [CD/DVD] is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box