R.E.M.: Document (25th Anniversary Edition)
I am an unabashed R.E.M. fan so I might seem like a biased reviewer. In my defense, I have also been very critical of bands and/or record labels who try to cash in on previous successes by re-issuing albums. With that said, I present my review of Warner Bros. 25th Anniversary reissue of R.E.M.’s fifth studio album, Document.
In the catalog of R.E.M. albums, Document holds a special place. It contained the band’s first hit single in the form of “The One I Love.” But for all the commercial success, Document is really a weird album. For the horn hits on the album’s opener “Finest Worksong” to the bluesy guitar noodling on “Exhuming McCarthy,” the album was filled with embellishments completely uncharacteristic of R.E.M.
Having owned Document on cassette tape as a kid, I will admit that the second side of the album was something I never warmed to until I was an adult. The first half of the record contains all the great rock songs on the album: the album’s singles “Finest Worksong” and “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” the cover of Wire‘s “Strange,” and the Reagan-era protest rockers “Welcome to the Occupation” and “Exhuming McCarthy.” The only track on the second half of the album I ever listened to was the very first one: “The One I Love.”
The second half is where the majority of the weirdness comes in. “Fireplace” is a dulcimer-laden track written in triplets. “Lightnin’ Hopkins” is almost tribal with its very 80s drums and unusual slap bass; it sounds more like Red Hot Chili Peppers than R.E.M. The Dulcimer returns for “King of Birds” which seems like R.E.M.’s attempt recreate Joni Mitchell’s Blue. “Oddfellows Local 151” is the menacing album closer that mixes slap bass with dissonant guitars and Stipe giving one of his most gutteral performances.
With the extent of the oddities on the second half of the album, Document was an unlikely first top 10 record for the band and an unlikely first platinum album. But considering the album’s success, it is no wonder Warner Bros. would want to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the album’s release with a deluxe package.
Having reissued every R.E.M. album on their 25th anniversaries, Document‘s reissue does not feel like a must own for fans. Unlike Lifes Rich Pageant reissue which came with a bonus disc of demos and unreleased/unfinished tracks, Document‘s reissue comes with a live performance from Utrecht, Holland. While Holland is a beautiful country, it holds little significance in the band’s history. This is not a performance from the band’s home coming show in Georgia. This is not a performance from what became the band’s home away from home Dublin. This is a random show from a European tour in Holland.
With that said, there are some things hardcore R.E.M. fans will find of interest in the recording. Whether it is Michael Stipe’s odd acapella opening to “I Believe” or the stunning, stripped down set closer “So. Central Rain,” the live disc has some highlights. At the same time, many time Stipe is off key and sounds strained. Mike Mills, generally considered the steadiest member of the group, even flubs some bass parts.
For newcomers only familiar with R.E.M.’s singles, Document is probably the first reissue that they might be swayed to buy. Sadly for them, it is not R.E.M.’s best album of their pre-major label days. Sadly for them, this is not the best reissue of R.E.M.’s 25 Anniversary deluxe editions. Lucky for them, it is still R.E.M. and Document is still one hell of a record.
MP3: R.E.M. “So. Central Rain (Live at Muziekcentrum Vredenburg, Utrecht, Holland)”
Buy: iTunes or Insound! vinyl