'I Believe' - Lifes Rich Pageant
There’s a pervasive political theme to Lifes Rich Pageant - the Cold War and the arms race as a small town under threat in ‘Hyena’, the effects of US support for the army in Guatemala (obliquely) in ‘The Flowers of Guatemala’, the appropriation and pollution of the titular river in ‘Cuyahoga’, a call to (popular) arms in ‘Begin the Begin’, and an all-purpose sense of inundation in ‘Fall On Me’.
Thing is, you could readily ignore any grand ideas being attached to the songs. The songs are bigger, and the album is back to a rock producer (Don Gehman), with the lyrics enunciated. It opens with a sort of challenge, crashing through ‘Begin the Begin’ with every word ringing out clear. ‘Fall On Me’ is particularly sweet-toned and plaintive, anxiety into cathartic chorus, while ‘The Flowers of Guatemala’ goes with slow-building unease.
'Underneath the Bunker' deserves a mention for being one of the stranger songs on their albums - jarring, distorted vocals and vaguely Mexican guitar, two short verses about hiding in a bunker, and it ends abruptly to allow the hazy first verse of 'The Flowers of Guatemala' to fill the silence. It sort of works, but it's hard to imagine how it ended up there.
The last three songs are a bit peculiar too. The closer is a coy cover of The Clique’s ‘Superman’ with Mike Mills on lead vocals, sounding like the best outtake ever. Right before that, faux folk ‘Swan Swan H’ goes back to Fables of the Reconstruction's Civil War/Reconstruction thing, utterly sombre and joyless. By contrast, that's preceded by the hooting, shouted, gleeful, stomping anthem-with-glissando 'Just A Touch', which sounds like a cover and goes out with Stipe roaring a line from Patti Smith's 'Privilege', “I'm so young/I'm so goddamn young”.
'I Believe' is like a personal counterpart to the political-toned songs. The banjo intro gives way to jangle, accordion following in later, and there's a deluge of images all sort of filtering down to “change is what I believe in”. It's weary in spite of the positivity, positive in spite of the weariness, and one of their strongest songs from this period.