GREEN – REM’s SIXTH ALBUM AND MAJOR LABEL DEBUT – IS A SNAPSHOT OF A BAND IN TRANSITION, CAPTURING THE FOUR-PIECE SOME WAY DOWN THE ROAD FROM THE ATHENS OUTLANDS TOWARDS THE BIG CITY.
Five albums along a trajectory which had seemed likely to be stalled forever at ‘cult’, the band’s last release on IRS Records – 1987’s DOCUMENT – paved potential new ways with the attention-grabbing singles THE ONE I LOVE and IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT (AND I FEEL FINE).
On GREEN the shifting drums, pedal steel glides and muscular guitar motifs during WORLD LEADER PRETEND make it a great proposal for radio, despite the fact it was not issued as a single. Its marriage of alt-country college rock and 45° left of the mainstream pop sensibility is a hugely satisfying one indicative of the album as a whole. GREEN plays as full spectrum dress rehearsal for the globe-straddling which would follow for the band over the next five or six years.
The tightly controlled chaos of ORANGE CRUSH is a blueprint for the strobe-lit REM of 1994’s MONSTER (pulsing bass, fractious guitar, bullet drums, call-and-response vocals) while the finest moment on the album – YOU ARE THE EVERYTHING – is the band tired from touring venues half a world away, and trying out more intimate ideas which would later become familiar motifs (strumming mandolins) on the porch back home.
Playful POP SONG ’89 and GET UP – lurid 60s-pastiche garage guitar and spat-out soundbites – are deliberately trashy kick-starts, but the album’s one misfire is STAND, the opening mile on a misguided journey which will end in the car-crash of SHINY HAPPY PEOPLE, three years later.
Elsewhere, the aforementioned WORLD LEADER PRETEND is a half-intensity double-tempo foreshadowing of DRIVE’s dark brooding on AUTOMATIC FOR THE PEOPLE (1992). Exploring similar lyrical ground to LOSING MY RELIGION (from 1991’s OUT OF TIME), the self-loathing and existential angst are more clearly expressed: “I sit at my table and wage war against myself”. Michael Stipe’s obfuscated poetry (what must his notebooks read like?) remains the general trend, but occasional leans into the light like this mean that – other than the singles from DOCUMENT – GREEN is the first REM record to will itself towards wider acceptance.
The album is now reissued in 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition but, disappointingly, unlike earlier releases in the campaign there are no additional demos, outtakes or contemporaneous b-sides included on the obligatory second disc. However, a striking performance (LIVE IN GREENSBORO, 1989) features old favourites, much of the latest album, and a couple of interesting workings-out later to become integral parts of OUT OF TIME.
Like GREEN itself, the concert showcases a band who, if not quite at the height of its pomp, is acutely aware of where it has come from and almost entirely certain of where it is going.