November 18, 2007
Lifes Rich Pageant marks the beginning of R.E.M.’s blatantly political period. Admirably, R.E.M. didn’t leap into the deep end of facile sloganeering, but instead crafted lyrics that mixed social/political critiques with an expression of optimistic idealism and self-aware humility. “These Days” in particular comes off like a rock n’ roll stump speech, with Michael Stipe semi-coherently hitting all of his talking points and selling us on his vision without letting us know exactly what that might entail. Applying the aesthetics of a political speech to a rock song is a brilliant move, especially when you consider that there’s quite a lot in common between hitting the campaign trail and touring in support of an album. The most important effect of “These Days” is that without saying all that much, it makes the listener believe that the band is extremely passionate about something, and that mysterious something involves imagining a better future. Throughout the song, the emphasis is placed on inclusiveness, to the point of mocking its own starry-eyed sincerity when Michael claims “we have many things in common, name three,” and the rest of the band sing “three, three, three!” in reply. The humor is absolutely necessary — without an acknowledgment of its irony, the song would actually seem a bit disingenuous.