Monday, June 13, 2011

Best of the 80's: Document by R.E.M.

Document (R.E.M. No. 5)In 1987 R.E.M. took the plunge into full pop mode with Document.  You could see R.E.M. moving in this direction with their previous album, but on Document they went all in with a new sound.  I was one of the R.E.M. fans that fell off with this album, but I also fully understand that for them to survive and grow as a band it was a direction they had to go. 

This album currently sits at number 57 on the Best of the 80's list.  To me this album is a bit too disjointed as they were still trying to figure out what they were doing with this new sound and so I'm not sure I understand why it would even make the top 100.  Still this album was an important step for R.E.M. and was another of the alternative bands moving into the mainstream.

This is a good road trip album.

Following the Rhapsody rating method I give it 2 out of 5 stars for Not Bad.


  1. OK, Number 1 Son and I were out at Congressional Country Club on Monday doing some research for the HP U.S. Open preview, so I didn't get to comment during the day. But I have to weigh in on these R.E.M. albums, as over the course of my life I have probably spent more time listening to R.E.M. than to any other band.

    For anyone who went to Vanderbilt in the mid-1980s, as I did, R.E.M. was the soundtrack of your young adulthood. To me, R.E.M. was clearly the greatest band in the world from 1983 to around 1994 (when it released "Monster") and that is a remarkable accomplishment. I'm not even sure that there has been a greatest band in the world since 1993, as the whole rock band thing -- to me, at least -- hasn't been the same since kids started spending more and more time on the Internet, and less and less time listening to music.

    But from 1983 to 1994 -- the last years before the Internet -- R.E.M. put out a new studio album almost every year. I would get the new album and immediately start listening to it, and it would usually become my go-to album for that year. Until R.E.M. released "New Adventures in Hi-Fi" in 1996 -- which was the beginning of the end, if not the end -- I was never disappointed in their work.

    "Document" was released on September 1, 1987, right at the beginning of my senior year of college. It was their last album for I.R.S., the last one I bought at Vandy, and the first one that went platinum. So it was kind of a turning point for both of us.

    For a lot of their hard-core alternative fans, this album represented a sell-out. A lot of folks were bitter at R.E.M. for their leaving I.R.S., and were even more bitter that they had become popular. But to me, they never stopped being the same band they had always been. I thought, and still think, that "Document" represented a natural and healthy development in their work, and is just as true to their sound as anything on "Murmur" or "Reckoning."

    I don't find it disjointed at all -- it has a very consistent sound and mood, driven by their anger (so fashionable at the time) over the popularity of the Reagan Administration and the general rah-rah nature of life in the late 1980s. This provoked them into a fury that can be found in songs like "Exhuming McCarthy" and "Welcome to the Occupation," and to vicious mockery in songs like "The One I Love" and "It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)." No songs have ever captured the fundamental attitude of so many American intellectuals to the optimism and prosperity of the late 1980s, which was to say "I don't have a feasible alternative to suggest to this society, and I know that a lot of folks like it, but I really really hate it." Even songs like "Fireplace" and "Oddfellows Local 151" fit this pattern, as they appeal to an idealized and more simplistic past, in which rural Southerners did cool poor-people's stuff instead of shopping at Wal-Mart and driving big trucks.

    I also find the sound of the album to be very consistent -- intense and clear, with occasional bursts into real passion, as in the frenzy of "End of the World" or the anger in "The One I Love."

    On the whole, it is a dark album that raises more questions than answers. But, hey, that is an almost perfect description of a lot of alternative culture in the late 1980s.

    Highly recommended.

  2. Yes.

    It occurs to me that Michael Stipe would be the perfect voice to narrate a PBS documentary series about the development of southern college towns in the 20th century. (And it occurs to me that we missed the new KET documentary on Henry Clay that was scheduled to air last night! Darn it. Got caught up mowing the grass until dark, and then we Yo Gabba Gabba-ed the night away.)

    "The One I Love" is a brilliant song. Absolutely brilliant. And I just always hated it. Loved this album; hated that song. Barely made it through the song even on first listen, and have hardly ever stuck to the end ever since. Fantastic song, but it's just so foreign and repulsive to me. The other side of that giant-pop-single-from-grassroots-guitar-and-drums-band coin is U2's "With Or Without You," which was almost so familiar to be repulsive.

  3. There is a rich strain of very angry, and even violent songs in Southern history. I tend to like these, but I can understand why other people wouldn't like them.