R.E.M.-Chronic Town (1982)

Immortal EP-5 out of 5 stars

Ahh..here we go. This is an EP which took everything that was established in music…and simply threw it out the window. This is just a recording of four guys who decided, “hey what the heck let’s do what we want” with all the reckless abandon of a record store clerk. (Oh wait, Peter Buck was one. Go figure. šŸ˜‰

What Chronic Town does so well is convey this sense of dreamlike mesmerism. Although the band name was just picked at random out of a dictionary, it fits like nothing else could. Sure, at this point R.E.M. was playing anywhere they could and earning all of the wondrous perks of constant low-end touring, but their early recordings have this odd dichotomy between jangling, punchy rhythms and almost a hibernation trance. It’s as if we’re all falling into REM sleep while listening to these records. Or maybe I’ve just put way too much thought into these things and should shut up and review the record.

For the record: I don’t claim to understand or know what Michael Stipe is meaning or saying. It’s just better that way. Don’t try it otherwise, you’ll end up missing the song and making your head hurt.

(Side 1) CHRONIC TOWN:If the opening of “Wolves, Lower” doesn’t grab you in any way…then I have no hope for you at all. “Gardening at Night” has an almost detached feeling, as the vocals have a slight echo which further displaces them from the punchy instrumental. (I think I might like the different vocal mix a bit more.) “Carnival of Sorts” is a semi-ode to hoboes jumping boxcars. And for some reason you kinda want to dance about.

(Side 2) POSTER TORN: “1,000,000” features more unintelligbleisms with the repeated refrain “I could live a million years” jumping out at the ears as the only really clear line you can make out. “Stumble” is about stumbling through the yard….and teeth…sorta.

In essence what you hold in your hands is the band discovering recording, the studio and its uses, effects, and in a sense what their recorded output should or would be. Here they were free to experiment and discover exactly what they wanted to do on a record. So they stumbled through the yard some more. The hiss at the opening of “Wolves” is mirrored by the hiss at the end of “Stumble” so that your journey is circular and you end where you began with maybe some further glimpse into what the hell it all means. Or not.

Doesn't Peter look nice and creepy?

Note: never try to clarify early period R.E.M. lyrics with internet searches. You spend your time either laughing or being pissed at what people come up with.

EDITIONS: you get a choice between CD, Cassette and LP. I first heard the cassette after picking it up in a cheapy bin. And let’s move on because if there’s anything I hate it’s bad EQ’d tapes….the CD edition is contained on the CD release of Dead Letter Office. And while it may be the easiest way to obtain these tracks, you get no CT artwork and lose all of the punchiness and depth that makes this recording so special. Skip it.

So…moving on to LP. My favored copy is the original IRS label pressing. There were three versions, one is the very original with custom gargoyle labels and then the second more mass produced issue with just the standard silver IRS label. The third has no barcode on the back, IRS labels and is on regular black vinyl. The second one is what I have and they seem to be the same pressing, just different labels. The first two are pressed on translucent brown vinyl (Just hold it up to the light to see what I mean!). It may be Quiex vinyl, but no one’s ever confirmed it. However, it plays dead quiet and is one of the best sounding LPs I own. (Along with all the other IRS R.E.M. albums)

There was a new pressing for Record Store Day a few years back on clear blue vinyl. It’s a faithful reproduction, but both the artwork and sound lose detail from the original. It’s a nice collectible, but just save your $ and go for the original. (Check your local record shop or ebay, they usually turn up in the $10-15 range)

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Filed under Immortal albums, Music, Music Review, R.E.M., Uncategorized, Vinyl

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