REM, Document

The end of the I.R.S. era for R.E.M., Document is as transitional as its position in their discography would indicate, and even the professional shedding of their college rock roots doesn't quite even its irregularities. There are genius tracks like the (deservedly) heavily rotated "It's The End of the World As I Know It (And I Feel Fine)," and the old jangle pop still yields refreshment in tracks like "The One I Love" and to a lesser extent the harder-charging "Fireplace," but Michael Stipe's more prominent vocals amidst the more competent production only serve to throw this outing's relatively underdeveloped concepts into sharper relief (the bizarre "Lightnin' Hopkins" comes to mind but "Exhuming McCarthy" in particular, a limp criticism of the Reagan era that's more repetitious than auspicious). "Finest Worksong" is a great example: the production is excellent, the mix is high quality, but the feel — starting from the very title, even — always evoked images of Soviet realism in my mind and its commentary on the American work ethic correspondingly comes off as hamfisted and obvious. A taste of yet to come bubbles up from the richly textured "King of Birds" where a double-tracked Stipe sings to and over himself, but the grim and grungy closer "Oddfellows Local 151," like a Reconstruction cast-off, ends up more retrograde than innovative. Green's release the following year was a clear departure from their earlier style; perhaps this album is evidence it had run its course even if it rewards on balance more than it perplexes. The reissue adds a B-side, several tiresome live tracks and two alternate mixes of "Finest Worksong" which aren't any better. (Content: no concerns.)