Four great songs and one okay one; “Stumble”‘s fault is that it’s too long, but hearing Peter Buck moving around Michael Stipe’s held note (“Ball and chaiiiiiiiin”) like a motorcycle blazing through stalled traffic makes for a great chorus. “1,000,000” is them at their most punkish and “Wolves, Lower” is them at their most chaotic – when the intro riff is re-introduced after the fucking amazing bridge, you hear the plane going down and Michael Stipe letting out the briefest scream (or it might be a manipulated guitar for all I know), and it’s lifetimes of psychological torture and physical terror, all channeled in a single second. Plus, you get Bill Berry’s best drumming; and there are people who don’t think (early) R.E.M. are post-punk? And broadly speaking, all of these songs are packed with details; ie. off-harmony backing vocals in “Wolves, Lower” (“Don’t get caught (caught)”) and “Carnival Of Sorts (Box Cars)” (there’s a drunk voice underneath “Gentlemen don’t get caught” repeating the same words; see the 0:58 mark).
And then there’s “Gardening at Night,”which is them at their most psychedelic (ie. the sitar, or something manipulated into sounding like a sitar, during the post-hooks, perfectly capturing the song’s title through sound). Peter Buck offers a great riff that’s discarded as soon as the verse starts, testament to how many ideas the band hasm; Bill Berry connects those two with a great drumfill; Mike Mills carries the verses with his bass line – one of the most democratic bands there ever was. But the star here is Michael Stipe. His vocals are characteristically incomprehensible, but it’s the snatches that are clear that matter: “Gardening at night is never where”, “They said it couldn’t be arranged”, “Gardening at night just didn’t grow.” Sadness communicated in a short period of time; maybe all we’ve done was for nothing in the end and worse, maybe it never ends.