Picks and Pans Review: Lifes Rich Pageant

updated 10/20/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/20/1986 01:00AM

R.E.M.

"Mumble, mumble, mumble, punch line, mumble, mumble, punch line." With few exceptions, this seemed to be the lyric formula used on the first three albums turned out by the Georgia-based quartet R.E.M. Though the mystery value of the lyrics may have helped to raise the band to cult status, it tested the patience of mainstream fans. But almost any pop music lover will be happy to take in Lifes Rich Pageant, one of this year's very best folk-rock albums, not only because it overflows with R.E.M.'s appealing sense of melody, but also because you can actually understand some of the words. When the lyrics ring out clearly, R.E.M.'s message seems to be a plea for the purification of moral values in society. In These Days lead singer Michael Stipe delivers with conviction an alternative to yuppie materialism: "We are young despite the years/ We are concerned/ We are hope despite the times." Because some of the songs still bear only a few discernible lines, their meaning stays open to speculation. But the impressive Fall on Me projects a message of longing and sadness through its lush melody alone. At its best, R.E.M.'s music deftly echoes the spirit of '60s folk without reverting to nostalgia. While the beat and the tunes are grittier than folk, the band maintains an earnest sound that emphasizes swirling aural moods and Stipe's dark vocals. It's no wonder that these guys, who look like students anyway, have become a hot act on college campuses. Both their music and their words show a lot of intelligence. Now if only someone would get them to include a lyric sheet with their next album for those moments when they backslide. (I.R.S.)

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