R.E.M. – Reckoning

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1. Apparently, Peter Buck wanted to make this a double album. Thank God they didn’t.

2. Apparently, this was going to be a thematic album about water. You can still see the remnants, “Harborcoat,” “Seven Chinese brothers swallowing the ocean,” “Rivers of suggestion are driving me away,” etc. I am neither thankful or bothered that this was not fleshed out.

3. I have no clue what a “harborcoat” is, and not only is Michael Stipe mumbling like he were chewing gum throughout the whole thing, but there are backing vocals to deal with to, making it impossible to deduce what he’s saying. But, Peter Buck’s jangly riffs that bridge Stipe’s lyrics basically asks us “Who cares?” and we just accept it. Actually, anything Peter Buck touches turns to gold, apparently. Listen to “7 Chinese Bros.” for example, where his riff just weaves itself in and out of Bill Berry’s kick drums, and the way those ending three notes just punctuate it.

4. “So. Central Rain” is a perfect pop song. Can we call it that? Yeah, let’s call it that. I mean, Mumble (which is, what I will refer Murmur as from here on out) gets a lot of attention for housing (a less punk version of) one of the most acclaimed singles of the indie rock canon, “Radio Free Europe,” but Reckoning‘s representative does everything better. It jangles (see the opening riff), it’s emotive (see every lyric), it’s melodic (see the chorus), it’s memorable (see the chorus) and it climaxes in a way that very few pop songs ever do, which means we get to elevate “So. Central Rain” to perfect pop song status.

5. I reckon Michael Stipe gets a little too much attention in the initial wave of R.E.M. releases, that is, anything spanning Chronic Town toReckoning. I mean, it’s understandable. He is the lead singer, and he’s got ambiguous lyrics and an ambiguous sexual orientation to boot (probably what the chorus of “Pretty Persuasion” refer to, “She’s got…pretty persuasion / He’s got…pretty persuasion / God damn…your confusion”), but R.E.M. always worked best as a band (well…at this point in time anyway. Before Michael Stipe decided that he wanted to be U2 and before Bill Berry decided a farm and his life was more important than the band…the selfish bastard). Yeah, Stipe almost steals the show with his “I’m sorry”’s on “So. Central Rain,” and amazingly, you can actually understand what he’s saying in the verses as well and I’m sure everyone can relate to the opening lines, “Did you never call? / I waited for your call” and even the more abstract one that follows, “These rivers of suggestion are driving me away.” But listen to Mike Mills’ extremely melodic bass which comes in to take the place after Peter Buck’s opening riff. Listen to Mills’ clattering piano, which is essentially solely responsible for the entirety of the song’s climax. He’s also the one that brings out the other single, the country-tinged, “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville,” thanks to his keyboards.

6. It’s hasn’t a chance of making much of an impression after “So. Central Rain” and “Pretty Persuation” but the interplay between Bill Berry’s bongos and Peter Buck on “Time After Time (Ann-Elise)” is nothing short of nifty.

7. ”Camera” strives to be “Perfect Circle” without nearly half-as-good a melody to back it and it strives for the emotional resonance of “So. Central Rain” in ballad form, but the problem is it takes twice as long as either of those songs. The only thing saving it is Peter Buck’s riff (I think that’s the third time I’ve said this?), but I swear I’ve heard itsomewhere before, but can’t place it. I wish the idiosyncratically added ending actually did something, other than showing the band just kicking around. Wouldn’t it have been great if it linked us to “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville?” Wouldn’t it be great if it were removed and the near 6-minute long “Camera” was like, fifteen seconds shorter?

8. “Little America” sounds exactly like New Order’s “Ceremony,” just with a jangle pop riff instead of the thunderous one of “Ceremony.” This is not a huge issue, because “Ceremony” is a classic song, and all the songs that sound similar to it (“Dreams Never End” “Age of Consent,” “Mr. Brightside,” etc.) strive for the same status. Listen to their similarities, especially in Bill Berry’s insistent percussion, but also in part because of the instrumental setup in the intro as well as how Michael Stipe’s vocal style is similar to the Bernard Sumner of 81, though Stipe chooses to be incomprehensible while Sumner was just diffident.

9. (Ever so) slightly underrated, for one express and sorry reason: it’s not Mumble. Now, whether this is better than Mumble or not is a moo(t) point since the two are different. This one, as suggested from the title, rocks as much as you’d think a reckoning would. That one just mumbled (except for one “Radio Free Europe” which was definitely something to reckon with). Is this better than Mumble? I’d say no, but to be honest, very few albums boast the level of consistent quality that one has. What Reckoning has going for it, however, is identity. It’s the exact same players on these tracks but in each of them, at least one person does something special to really give that track an identity, which means that even the less impressive span of tracks from “Time After Time (Annelise)” through to “Camera” stand out in some way. And I only mean “less impressive” relative to the opening stretch of four tracks, because they would be highlights anywhere else.

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6 responses to “R.E.M. – Reckoning

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