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Old 02-04-2010, 06:22 PM   #41 (permalink)
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Word. Document is next.
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Old 02-07-2010, 01:06 PM   #42 (permalink)
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Document
Released 1987
I.R.S. Records



The time to rise has been engaged

I doubt that truer words have ever opened an album. With this line from "Finest Worksong", R.E.M.'s fifth record begins. Due to its incredible commercial success and the rising popularity of the band, Document would be their last released on I.R.S. records., and would carry them down the path to international stardom, wealth and musical freedom they had never before experienced.

But at what cost?

It's easy to blame document for R.E.M.'s Warner Brother's Era mediocrity. Document sounds mainstream. It was trying to be mainstream. It became mainstream, and with that it was arguably the indirect reason for records like Around the Sun. In a sense, Document is R.E.M.'s "The Joshua Tree": polished, popular, pervasive and the "big break" for both bands. Without Document, R.E.M. would have fallen to the same fate as the Feelies and the Violent Femmes, still playing small shows and eventually petering out whilst retaining their signature sound despite financial hardships and dwindling success. But that isn't R.E.M., the multi-million dollar megastars who once declared that the "Everybody hurts, everybody cries", and like it or not, it's all because of Document. But while we can in a way blame the record for its own success, blaming it for the sporadically brilliant and at times not-so-brilliant by products of that success is hardly fair.

Rather, examining how Document became successful is what is important to do when analyzing this record. No one can effectively predict an album to be a hit, but by 1987, R.E.M. seemed to have a fairly clear idea of how to attain it. Working off the musical path laid in place by Don Gehman's production on Lifes Rich Pageant, producer Scott Litt took Document one step further. Until then, Michael's vocals had been audible at times but indiscernible more often than not. On Document, Stipe sings with a clear and resonant tenor that dominates the album. As a result, the guitars and bass are oftened drowned out, and Mike Mills harmonies are nowhere to be found. This is a slight problem, as Michael never was and never will be Bono, and while he is a great frontman, his voice simply doesn't work as a centerpiece of an album. Herein lies the overwhelming difference between Lifes Rich Pageant and Document in terms of sound. Whereas the former was a guitar album in every sense, the latter is more mismatched; trying to glean from Michael's voice something that he doesn't possess, that is, the ability to belt. And as such, these eleven songs ultimately fail to serve their purpose as anti-establishment political anthems.

In 1987, College students loved two things: R.E.M. and hating Ronald Reagan. As their most lyrically political album to date, Document bridged the gap between the two, thus beginning their short-lived two album stint in which they openly linked political beliefs with their music. The college kids bought into it because of sheer prospect, but I don't. With 20 years of political music since Document and ever more before its release, the whole idea is becoming quite tired. Without the songwriting, production or Henry Rollins-like frontman to back it up, Document fails despite Bill Berry's best drumming ever on tracks like Lightnin' Hopkins and Finest Worksong.

However, when they lay down their picket signs for song or two is when this album begins to show its strength. The One I Love, which would become a top ten single, is led by a classic riff and a one word chorus to die for (see "FIIIIAAAAAAAAAHH"). It is a classic alternative love song, or rather a song about love, as it is in actuality a harsh snide kiss-off to lovers "left behind". Lightnin' Hopkins is even better, with an absolutely cracking beat and catchy harmonious chorus. It is only brought down by Michael's vocal, too loud and overdone to the point of near annoyance. However, the only point at which the album achieves near perfection is with the closing song Oddfellow's Local 151. The haunting vocal performance from Michael Stipe is great, but the instrumentation makes the song brilliant, as Mike Mill's Joy Division-esque bass line plods along to the beat of Berry's drum. Buck's guitar, double tracked and distorted is not lost amongst these musical forces, thankfully, and as a result, Oddfellows is very different from any R.E.M. song before or since. They never tried this formula again, but on Oddfellows it works with great results. Unfortunately, these songs, plus the rabble-rousing classic "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" are not enough to make the album great, and it rests firmly as the worst record of the I.R.S. Years. (Sorry Jackhammer )

Key Tracks (Click to Download): "The One I Love", "Lightnin' Hopkins", "Oddfellows Local 151"

7/10



Next Step: U2 - War

Last edited by Rickenbacker; 02-07-2010 at 01:28 PM.
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Old 02-08-2010, 09:46 PM   #43 (permalink)
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Document is definitely a different side to the band. While it was their breakout album, they managed to break the mainstream without losing any credibility in my mind. I personally would give it an 8, but this is your thread. I am just glad somebody is taking the time to discuss their albums.

I'm still not quite sure how I'd rate Green. I guess I'll take your opinion into consideration when you post it.
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Old 02-11-2010, 02:16 PM   #44 (permalink)
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Thanks for the comment, JJJ. I appreciate it.

Just to let everyone know, I'm going to be away for the next few days in New Orleans, maybe actually enjoying life for a change. Who knows.

I will pick up with Dead Letter Office when I get back. cheers
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Old 02-11-2010, 02:23 PM   #45 (permalink)
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So are your "next step" albums just albums that you think were influenced by these releases?
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Old 02-11-2010, 02:30 PM   #46 (permalink)
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War came out four years before Document.

So no.

The next step album is just an album with a similar sound/message, and may be a little better or a little worse. Similarity is the key.
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Old 02-11-2010, 02:35 PM   #47 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rickenbacker View Post
War came out four years before Document.

So no.

The next step album is just an album with a similar sound/message, and may be a little better or a little worse. Similarity is the key.
ah ok.

Figures that U2 would be similar to the lowest rated album.....
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Old 02-11-2010, 09:02 PM   #48 (permalink)
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alright... i give in. first of all i think they should be given a gold star because in my opinion nothing sans peaches comes out of georgia that is good. i like r.e.m. because i generally like bands that use a subtle vocal harmony and melodic phrasing. i; however, am not an r.e.m. fangirl because i really don't care for Michael Stipe's wailing and keening vocals. The words can be somewhat hard to understand at first listen. I like them and enjoy them... just not in my most played songs on my ipod so to say.

you asked for it. there you go. haha.
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Old 02-16-2010, 06:30 PM   #49 (permalink)
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Dead Letter Office
Released 1987
I.R.S. Records


In the months following Lifes Rich Pageant and before the release of Document, I.R.S. Records and R.E.M. compiled a collection of B-sides, covers and alternate versions of various album tracks. In an effort to capitalize on R.E.M.'s devoted college fan base, this compilation was released as Dead Letter Office.

1. Crazy (B-Side of Driver 8 and Wendell Gee)
Crazy was originally written by fellow Athens, Georgia band Pylon for their 1983 album Chomp. Like their New Jersey counterparts the Feelies, Pylon were incredibly influential to the alternative rock movement and instrumental in its evolution from post-punk to college rock. R.E.M. pays tribute with this well played cover; nearly as dark as the original but more accessible. Mike Mills bass stands out against the murky textures of Buck's guitar, making Crazy an early highlight of the compilation.

2. There She Goes Again (B-Side of I.R.S. version of Radio Free Europe)
In their earlier years, R.E.M. had always had a penchant for Velvet Underground covers. While the Velvets originals are often forebodingly rough and dissonant, R.E.M.'s versions have been melodic and melancholy. Unfortunately, when they try to "rock out" to the VU and Nico classic, it simply doesn't work. Mills' harmonies are a mess; not fitting those of the Velvet Underground's at all. The original song only works because of Lou Reeds end monologue "She's gonna work it out, bye bye", and that too is missing from R.E.M.'s cover.

3. Burning Down (B-Side of Wendell Gee)
The first original song on the compilation, Burning Down is actually quite good, with a catchy chorus and trademark jangley guitar licks throughout. While not stylistically in tune with Fables of the Reconstruction of Lifes Rich Pageant, Burning Down would have been well suited on the more pop inflected Reckoning. My only qualms with this song is the length. While the lyrics and instrumentation are decent, the 4:12 length is simply too long. Still, Burning Down is a highlight.

4. Voice of Harold (B-Side of So. Central Rain)
Reckoning fans will love Voice of Harold, even for its somewhat gimmicky nature. Set to the backing track of the Reckoning classic 7 Chinese Bros., Michael Stipe sings the liner notes of The Joy of Knowing Jesus, a gospel album by the Revelaires. It may seem like a joke, but it's actually quite good, at least until he starts reading the "thank yous." The song is definitely a testament to Michael's inability to sing clearly... who knew he was saying "The Joy of Knowing Jesus, Produced by Joel Gentry, Cover/Backliner Design/Reesor?"

5. Burning Hell (B-Side of Can't Get There From Here)
Burning Hell is either a bad joke or a horrible attempt at sounding br00tal. I've always thought that Michael's atrocious vocal delivery was parodying hair metal vocalists of the day... let's hope so, because this song is really bad.

6. White Tornado (Recorded during the 1981 Radio Free Europe sessions)
This lackluster instrumental serves as proof that in 1981, Bill Berry was the only member of R.E.M. who could actually play an instrument.

7. Toys in the Attic (B-Side of Fall On Me)
Wow, thank god this arrived when it did! On paper, R.E.M. covering Aerosmith sounds like a joke. However, somehow this cover is incredible! The instrumentation is very tight, with a stellar guitar solo and a grooving bassline. R.E.M. are in top form here, keeping the song under three minutes and breathing new life into a tired "classic". Not only is it perhaps the best song on Dead Letter Office, this cover was one of my favorite childhood songs.

8. Windout (From the Bachelor Party soundtrack)
Remember the live version of Windout from the Reckoning reissue? That was some hardcore playing, and one of the most raw performances put to tape by the band. Unfortunately, this studio take is soulless and boring, but serves as a testament to the power of a live show to make better any song.

9. Ages of You (B-Side of Wendell Gee)
Another song that would have fit well on Reckoning, Ages of You is slightly better than Burning Down, with a better chorus and imagery filled lyrics that give it the edge. The syncopation of the guitar and bass in the bridge is nice also. As a result, Ages of You is the best R.E.M. original on Dead Letter Office. I just wish I could understand the chorus beyond the "ages of you" line. The rest sounds like "Wadada da da eh"

10. Pale Blue Eyes (B-Side of So. Central Rain)
The Velvet Underground's 1969 original version of Pale Blue Eyes is one of the saddest and simply greatest songs ever. R.E.M.'s version begins similarly, with a hushed and fragile Michael Stipe delivering that unforgettably paradoxical opening line "Sometimes I feel so happy, sometimes I feel so sad." However when the chorus comes around, Peter Buck's guitar tracks chime to Berry's confident drum, making the song a much livelier countrified track. Since the original is so heartbreaking and this version is so upbeat, one might think it blasphemous. However, something about this version saves it, making it one of my favorite Velvet Underground covers. Also, Peter Buck's guitar solo > Lou Reed's.

11. Rotary Ten (B-Side of Fall On Me)
Rotary Ten is another somewhat pointless instrumental that does little else than showcase Peter Buck's guitar abilities, which sound pretty good here. It's also more than a little Tom Waits-y.

12. Bandwagon (B-Side of Can't Get There From Here)
This song was co-written by Michael's sister Lynda of the band Oh-OK, whose complete discography record is pretty good. This song, however, is bland and boring, and Michael's affected southern accent is annoying.

13. Femme Fatale (B-Side of Superman)
Femme Fatale is yet another classic Velvet Underground song, originally sung by Nico on the Velvets' debut record. I actually prefer Michael's vocal, as well as Mill's understated harmonies to the original version. The guitar line is classic R.E.M., but not to the point that it detracts from the song's innocent beauty.

14. Walter's Theme (B-Side of So. Central Rain)
This song is so stupid. Apparently they were drunk when the band recorded this. Stipe is rambling in the backround, and I don't know what's going on.

15. King Of The Road (B-Side of So. Central Rain)
This is equally stupid as Walter's Theme but much more fun and kind of hilarious. I think that this song, a cover of Roger Miller's 1965 hit is meant as a joke. Apparently it was recorded when they were drunk as well.

In summation, R.E.M. are simply not a b-sides band. Many of these songs, while fun, are not nearly up to par with their album material. However, the few quality songs present are enough to make this compilation worthwhile.

Key Tracks (Click to Download): "Crazy", "Ages of You", "Pale Blue Eyes"

5/10




Last edited by Rickenbacker; 03-25-2010 at 09:44 AM.
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Old 02-20-2010, 03:32 PM   #50 (permalink)
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Eponymous
Released 1988
I.R.S. Records


In 1988, the chips were beginning to fall into place for R.E.M. Riding on the success of Document and the top-ten single The One I Love, the band was on a fast track towards mainstream popularity. Seeking to capitalize on this ever growing popularity, I.R.S. Records and R.E.M. released Eponymous, the band's very first "Greatest Hits" collection. Eponymous is a compilation of many of the more accessible songs of the I.R.S. Years, omitting dirge-like classics such as Feeling Gravity's Pull and Pilgrimage in exchange for poppier tunes like Gardening at Night and So. Central Rain. As a result, it is perhaps not the greatest representation of R.E.M.'s early sound. While undeniably good, the songs fail to encapsulate the feelings provoked by the full albums themselves. Still, Eponymous serves its purpose as an accessible and worthy entry point to the great band that is R.E.M.

1. Radio Free Europe (Original Hib-Tone Single)
Eponymous kicks off with R.E.M.'s first ever single, the original version of Radio Free Europe from 1981. Miles better than the Murmur version, this Hib-Tone cut is filled with pure, raw energy; something that R.E.M. would have trouble perfecting again until 1996. This version of Radio Free Europe also wins for having the least understandable vocal take of all time. It almost becomes funny.

2. Gardening at Night (Different Vocal Mix)
One of the great songs on R.E.M.'s debut EP Chronic Town, the original version of Gardening at Night is lyrically masterful; fast paced, yet restrained. This alternate version, complete with a different vocal take sounds anxious, rushed, and at times frantic. With a more emotional vocal, the song takes on a different meaning: less a story, and more an artistic statement.

3. Talk About the Passion
Such mature beauty lies within Talk About the Passion, perhaps the defining track from 1983's Murmur. I question the melancholy nature of Stipe's vocal. Is this folk music for the Reagan years? Some anthem of teenage apathy to end it all? "Empty prayer, empty mouths", he sings, "Not everyone can carry the weight of the world." But does he care who does, or if at all? Perhaps that is the central idea of this glorious song.

I also happen to think that it is the greatest pop single of all time, but that's just me...

4. So. Central Rain
The centerpiece of Reckoning, So. Central Rain is entirely responsible for R.E.M. attaining mainstream success. While songs like Gardening at Night are catchy and easy to sing along with, the anthemic and all-encompassing chorus of So. Central Rain is so relatable to their fan base that I insinuate it is one of the best of all time.

"I'm Sorry"

These words, overspoken and overwrought with broken hopes and rejected desires, are transformed into something greater. Michael Stipe sings with an unforeseen vigor, backed by a rhythm that makes So. Central Rain a landmark song in the progression of music.

5. (Don't Go Back To) Rockville
One of the key tracks on Reckoning, Rockville was one of R.E.M.'s best early pop songs. Written by Mike Mills about a girlfriend in Rockville, Maryland, the song is an honest and well executed plea to bygone lovers. The song is rooted in country influence, with a catchy piano line and a vocal sung in trademark southern accent. Peter Buck's guitar is unmistakable as well, and gives it the R.E.M. sounds it needs.

6. Can't Get There From Here
There are many reasons why I love Fables of the Reconstruction. As an album, it is entirely cohesive, generating a feeling of catharsis by its completion. Better still is that while undoubtedly better suited for listening as a full album, it has many tracks that work very well by themselves. Can't Get There From Here, unfortunately, is not one of them. While undeniably catchy and easy to like, a deeper insight reveals flaws, most notably... why are R.E.M. trying to do a funk tune? Nevertheless, the lyrics redeem it. I've always loved the "Philomath is where I go by dawn" line.

7. Driver 8
This, on the other hand, is one of those standalone Fables tracks that really works. Peter Buck delivers a riff better than anything he ever did before or since on this song, and with an austere vocal completed with mysteriously dark lyrics, Driver 8 ranks among R.E.M.'s very best songs.

8. Romance
These days, Romance gets a lot of love only as a treasured forgotten and unknown R.E.M. song. Like the few and far between great songs on Dead Letter Office, Romance is still just not that good. Ages of You is better anyway, but for completists, Romance is still essential.

9. Fall On Me
Of all songs in their canon, Fall On Me holds a special place in my heart as the R.E.M. song that has spent the most time as my favorite. This song, a classic from Lifes Rich Pageant really is one of the defining moments of their early career. Melodic, sweet, yet mature and multi-dimensional, Fall On Me is perfect, and a much needed down-tempo piece on this upbeat compilation.

10. The One I Love
Overplayed into oblivion on alternative stations, a fresh listen to the Document centerpiece reveals a track legitimately worthy of such high praise. It demands to be played loud, as Michael screams "Fire!" over Peter Buck's dominating riff. Hipsters love it too, because it's all about irony!

11. Finest Worksong (Mutual Drum Horn Mix)
One of my issues with Document was producer Scott Litt's choice to turn up Michael's vocals. On the original version of Finest Worksong, this wasn't an issue, as the drums helped to balance out the louder vocal. However, this mix has the drums turned down, making Michael's vocals sound forced and annoying at times. The horns sound incredibly dated as well, and when coupled with Mills' awkward harmonies, the end result is a failure.

12. It's The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
I've gone through bouts of loving this song and disliking it vehemently. Perhaps that's all that needs to be said. Some days, this song just pisses me off. Other times I just have to sing along.

Overall, this is a fair collection of the more accessible side of R.E.M.'s work from 1981-1987. The songs here are good if not great, and it serves its purpose as a compilation.

Key Tracks (Click to Download): "Radio Free Europe (Original Hib-Tone Single)", "So. Central Rain", "Driver 8"

8.5/10


Last edited by Rickenbacker; 02-26-2010 at 02:01 PM.
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