For many people, Life’s Rich Pageant is the last “real” R.E.M. record.
Although it shines a giant and unmistakable signal toward the direct and poppy approach the band would undertake on their next few albums, Pageant still retains the mumbles of Murmur, the jangles of Reckoning, and the rustic tones of Fables of the Reconstruction. But it bundles all those things in a cheerful and expansive sound—courtesy of producer Don Gehman, best known for his work with John Mellencamp—and, at the time, it seemed less like a definitive change in direction than just another example of R.E.M. trying a sound on for size.
Yet, this was the record that saw the band metastasize from the biggest band on the college-rock scene into a band that was on their way to becoming one of the biggest rock bands on the planet. This reissue offers an appropriately beefy remastering job, one that highlights the sinewy strength of tracks like “Hyena” and “Begin the Begin,” but doesn’t quite do justice to the more gentle textures of “Swan Swan H,” a song that shouldn’t give you goosebumps 25 years later, but does. The bonus tracks here, like those on last year’s reissue of Fables of the Reconstruction, are all demo versions, including quite a few (unremarkable) songs that didn’t make the album.