I gotta say that the lists in themselves don't interest me, the way people's tastes change over time is interesting to me though.
Yeah. If I had a list of which albums I loved most on first listen, it would go something like this
2. Chronic Town EP
3. Automatic for the People
(this first listen was before I heard much other REM though, so it doesn't quite count)
5. Lifes Rich Pageant
6. Fables of the Reconstruction
10. New Adventures in Hi-Fi
12. Out of Time
14. Around the Sun
Bold are the ones I had to grow into, that really went up in my estimation. Italic went down after more listens.
My taste of course has changed since I got into REM, so if I was to hear them all for the first time now the order might be completely different. I'm sure I would recognize Pageant was a brilliant album now instead of feeling the filler ruined the potential of the first few tracks, and I wouldn't need to listen to Reveal more than once to recognize both its profound pleasantness (most of the time) and its lack of anything really memorable.
I still think Up would be near the top. I wish I could hear that again for the first time.
3. New Adventures in Hi-Fi - ...Instantly loveable and endlessly rewarding...
it's funny because this was probably the the greatest acquired taste for me, after Out of Time. but I first heard it in 2002, after reading many posts about how amazing it was on Murmurs- and a few about how terrible it was, which just got everyone else to say it was amazing even more- so my expectations were quite high.
it's not as melodic as any of their other Warner albums (or maybe any of their albums, period. exception of Document), and it doesn't have the kind of rhythmic pulse as the early IRS ones either. the lyrics are beginning to retreat into personal concerns ("navelgazing"?) which seem to come directly from Stipe in a way that could be hard to relate to at first, especially lacking the emotional directness they had on Up. it took a long time to feel the songs worked together, and to appreciate them despite, or because of, the dry subtlety of the production. I think the only ones I loved on first listen were How the West Was Won and Bittersweet Me, maybe Leave, New Test Leper and Binky. but if I had been an REM fan in 1996, I know it would have been exactly what I wanted.
7. Fables of the Reconstruction - I recently got into this at long last after possessing it for about 15 years, hence the relatively high rating (which might surprise some people). The initially claustrophobic sound slowly - very slowly - reveals some of their most innovative work on the IRS label, while Wendell Gee is among their most beautiful songs.
I think this is one of those albums that's hated only because the band hated the recording of it and thus the press was negative. Or because indie kids like experimentation and change even less than pop listeners. But once you get past the unexpected and brilliant opening of Feeling Gravitys Pull (which still ends with the most gorgeous backing vocals Mills ever did) and the brilliantly odd single of Can't Get There From Here (both these tracks are unlike anything REM has done before or since), and a bit of filler in the middle (Kohoutek, maybe Old Man Kensey), it has a run of utterly classic catchy dark folk rock songs that should have attracted anyone who liked Murmur. And I agree about Wendell Gee.
10. Document - a necessary despatch at the time, although necessarily dated by its fearless engagement with the divisive Reaganomics and pan-global Conservatism that polarised a generation.
really? I agree w/ what you said about surrendering their mystique (fortunately they got it back on parts of Out of Time, and finally had one last brilliant run of the abstract pastoral southern thing albeit with more universal accessibility, on AFTP). but the best/worst thing about Document is it hasn't dated much at all lyrically. again I first heard it in 2002, and it seemed torn from the day's headlines. And imo it will have more to say about 2007 than Around the Sun.
One thing I always loved about Document was the artwork. The dark utopian socialist imagery of giants holding globes or... the book covers of Ayn Rand. just perfect considering the message.
12. Reveal - in a nutshell: REM trying to sound like REM. If anyone can pull it off then one would assume that they can, and they certainly do a creditable impersonation of themselves. However, there's always been more to REM than the version on display here, and - while initially warm and reassuring - when you scratch its surface, there's little to be found beneath the lush production and seductive melodies.
I think this is a very good description. It's like a mix of Fables pastoral dirges and Out of Time spring/summer pop, remade with "modern" (hah) production values. It's a nostalgic album though for fans, much more than Up, thus the undeserved better reviews.