I.R.S., 1987

REVIEW BY: Shane M. Liebler


All my favorite rock features are here: numerous layers of meandering guitars, a quasi-political working class undertone and sublime hooks that sneak in when least suspected.

So, why aren’t R.E.M. one of my favorites?

What bothers me about R.E.M. is they never go all the way, balls-out, face-first. They’re always kind of quietly rocking in the corner: hard to ignore, but too neutral to stir up obsession.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Prolific and consistent, R.E.M. cranked out six records in as many years between forming around 1981 and finally breaking in 1987. Document landed them their first top 10 hit (“The One I Love”) and album.

Many rank it among the band’s best output, some even among the greatest LPs of all time. Not me. For starters, it lacks the sass synonymous with timelessness. Stipe’s passionate observations of American life often sound restricted, like someone singing in a reclining chair. Where’s the guts and grit of (at the time) the hardest working band in the biz?

I get annoyed by the tinny ’80s production; the treble overdrive pricks my ears like a dog whistle. The kitschy “It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” while a landmark pop song, feels dated in 2006. Document would have little appeal to the dorm-dwelling children of the members of the college rock scene that R.E.M. introduced to the mainstream.

That said, songs like “Finest Worksong,” “Welcome To The Occupation,” “Exhuming McCarthy” and “Strange” serve this period piece very well. Even I can’t argue that “The One I Love” isn’t a stone-cold classic rock song.

Despite its strong start, though, Document slowly fades in its final third. “Fireplace,” “King Of Birds,” and “Oddfellows Local 151” bring the solid first half of the record to a screeching halt.

In subsequent years, R.E.M. would go on to become one of the biggest bands in the world with stronger material, more meticulous arrangements and greater confidence. All of those elements reveal themselves in underdeveloped form on Document, which despite its shortcomings does offer a snapshot of an exceptional band when they were still just good.

Rating: B-

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© 2006 Shane M. Liebler and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of I.R.S., and is used for informational purposes only.