07 November 1988
Unpopular opinion: this is still my favorite R.E.M. album. I know that the “real” R.E.M. fans prefer their earlier work and relative newcomers love albums like New Adventures In Hi-Fi and later works, by which time I’d more-or-less tuned out again. But in retrospect, if the band had released just this one album and that was the entirety of their output, I’d actually be okay with that.
Prior to Green, I was peripherally aware of the band thanks to Radio singles off of Document like “The One I Love” and “It’s The End Of The World As I Know It (And I Feel Fine)” but I’d never bought an album or even their best-of collection, Eponymous.
Green was immediately different and I can understand why some longtime fans were turned off by its commercial success and obvious pop-pandering with songs like “Stand.” I understand, but that wasn’t my experience. I was still in high school and firmly in the throes of Top 40, so “Stand” and “Get Up” and even the satirical “Pop Song ‘89” were right in my wheelhouse. Conversely, when The Cure released “Friday I’m In Love” three-and-a-half years later, that was my “Stand” moment, so I get it.
The newly commercial aspect of their music was welcome to me, and album outliers like the mandolin piece “You Are The Everything” – which hearkened back a bit to the earlier R.E.M. sound – and “World Leader Pretend” provided a counterpoint to their slick new sound that eventually grew on me and compelled some meager exploration of their back catalog.
Still, thirty-one years on, it’s the upbeat singles that excite me – “Orange Crush,” “Turn You Inside-Out,” “Pop Song,” and, yes, even “Stand.” (I’ve said it before: you know you’ve hit the big-time when “Weird” Al parodies one of your songs.) I could do without tracks like “The Wrong Child” and “Hairshirt” (though I’ve actually come to not mind the latter so much).
When it was released on album and cassette in ‘88, the first six songs were on the “Air Side” with the latter five on the “Metal Side.” The latter starts with the harder-edged “Orange Crush,” an uptempo U2-like song with a huge Claytonesque bass line courtesy of Mike Mills. This is really the standout song on the album and it serves – with its follow-up, the vaguely threatening “Turn You Inside Out” – as a tightly controlled one-two punch opening the second side of the album.
From there we get a mellowed out retreat with “Hairshirt,” the quasi-conservationist “I Remember California,” and “Untitled” closing out the album. Nothing wrong with these songs, but following the aggressive thrill of the b-side’s opening numbers they’re a bit of a comedown. (For that matter, “Untitled” has plenty of lyrics from which to come up with a title. Why leave it untitled?)
Their commercial pinnacle was also their artistic pinnacle for me. I’ve tried to get into earlier R.E.M. and while I enjoy it, I don’t find any of it indispensable. And I enjoy some singles from latter-day R.E.M. but, likewise, it just doesn’t grab me. This album is where it’s at. Happy 31st anniversary!