Chronic Town by R.E.M.

There's a few "reviewisms" that I actively avoid, and quoting lyrics is one of them. It's lazy, it fills space, hacks do it. I'm making an exception for R.E.M.'s often-overlooked debut EP, Chronic Town, because even if I show you the lyrics, you won't get what they mean. It's a mish-mash of Americana, peril, in-jokes, and warnings from mumbler-in-chief Michael Stipe, over chiming guitars, moody Rickenbacker basslines, and a hyperactive backbeat from drummer-farmer Bill Berry:

There's a secret stigma, reaping wheel
Diminish, a carnival of sorts
Chronic town, poster torn, reaping wheel
Stranger, stranger to these parts

Gentlemen don't get caught, cages under cage
Gentlemen don't get caught

Boxcars (are pulling) out of town

Early R.E.M. had a sound much different than the stadium-folk sound they'd develop post-Green. Chronic Town is the purest distillation of it. Opener "Wolves, Lower" sounds like creaky floors and lynch mobs, "Gardening at Night" is pleasantly futile, and "Carnival of Sorts" careens off the fucking tilt-a-whirl in spectacular fashion. The second side is less noteworthy, and the "ball and chain" refrain in "Stumble" is just annoying. Though R.E.M. would go on to become menaces to society, white liberal politicos, straight pride icons, and frequent collaborators of other bands, Chronic Town catches them as 22-year-olds without much better to do—the best kind of R.E.M., really.

Chronic Town

Essential: "Wolves, Lower", "Gardening at Night", "Carnival of Sorts"
Quintessential: "1,000,000"
Non-essential: "Stumble"

Rating: Great
Listen on Spotify