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.
One of Don Cherry's most spiritual, far-reaching projects – a wonderful record that builds both on his key avant work of the 60s, and some of the globally-inspired sounds he was cutting overseas! This date was done in close collaboration with the New York underground of the time – and the large group features work from a rich array of great musicians – including Charles Brackeen on soprano and alto sax, Carlos Ward on alto, Frank Lowe and Dewey Redman on tenors, Charlie Haden on bass, Carla Bley on piano, and Ed Blackwell on drums – working with additional string and percussion players in a sound that's completely sublime! There's a great ear here for unusual sonic twists and turns, yet these are mixed with some deeper organic tones, and some freer jazz passages – all to really ignite a great fire as the set rolls on.