Sunday, December 16, 2012

On the turntable this Sunday...Document

Document is the fifth studio album by the American alternative rock band R.E.M. It was released in 1987 a few months after their rarities collection Dead Letter Office appeared and is the last album of new material by the band released on the I.R.S. Records label. It is the first album on which the band worked with producer Scott Litt.

Document was R.E.M.'s first album co-produced by Scott Litt and the band, a collaboration that continued through Green, Out of Time, Automatic for the People, Monster, and New Adventures in Hi-Fi. The album's clear production and muscular rock riffs helped to move the band towards mainstream success and built on the work done by Don Gehman, who had produced their previous album Life’s Rich Pageant. This release not only launched "The One I Love," R.E.M.'s first Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 (it reached number nine), but also gave them their first platinum album.

"Exhuming McCarthy" makes an explicit parallel between the red-baiting of Joe McCarthy's time and the strengthening of the sense of American exceptionalism during the Reagan era, especially the Iran-Contra affair. Starting with the click-clack of a typewriter, it also includes a sound clip of Joseph Welch's rebuke of McCarthy from the Army-McCarthy Hearings: "Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator.... You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

The song "Strange" was originally recorded by the post-punk band Wire on their debut album Pink Flag. This version has slightly altered lyrics, changing "Joey's nervous" to "Michael's nervous" in the first verse, and has a considerably faster tempo.

R.E.M. expanded their instrumentation somewhat on the album, adding dulcimer to "King of Birds" and saxophone to "Fireplace".[1] This experimentation would lead to their adoption of the mandolin, which featured prominently on their subsequent albums Green and Out of Time. Furthermore, the band's musicians began swapping instruments both in concert and in the studio in an effort to create new sounds and avoid stagnation.[citation needed]

The original sleeve for the album featured the message "File under Fire", a reference to what Michael Stipe considered to be the central lyrical theme of the album, and also references the chorus to "The One I Love".  A similar message ("File under water") could be found on the cover of the band's second album, Reckoning, as well as on the compilation album Eponymous ("File under grain") referring to the idea behind "Talk About the Passion", which was about hunger. Two rejected suggestions for the title of the album—R.E.M. No. 5 and Table of Content—also appear on the sleeve artwork. Other possible album titles included Mr. Evil Breakfast, Skin Up with R.E.M., and Last Train to Disneyland (the last one having been suggested by Peter Buck, who felt that America under the presidency of former actor Ronald Reagan was beginning to feel a lot like the famed amusement park).

Robert Christgau praised the album, and called "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" an "inspirational title." Stephan Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic said that "Where Life’s Rich Pageant sounded a bit like a party record, Document is a fiery statement, and its memorable melodies and riffs are made all the more indelible by its righteous anger."

Rolling Stone reviewer David Fricke felt that the album was R.E.M.'s "finest to date", and said that "Document is the sound of R.E.M. on the move". Rolling Stone went on to include the album in their list of the 100 greatest albums of the 1980s (in 41st place), and then ranked it number 470 on 2003 list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. In 2012, Slant Magazine listed the album at number 17 on its list of "Best Albums of the 1980s".

Track listing:
All songs were written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe, except as indicated.

Side one – "Page side"
1."Finest Worksong" – 3:48
2."Welcome to the Occupation" – 2:46
3."Exhuming McCarthy" – 3:19
4."Disturbance at the Heron House" – 3:32
5."Strange" (Bruce Gilbert, Graham Lewis, Colin Newman, Robert Gotobed) – 2:31
6."It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" – 4:05
Side two – "Leaf side"
7."The One I Love" – 3:17
8."Fireplace" – 3:22
9."Lightnin' Hopkins" – 3:20
10."King of Birds" – 4:09
11."Oddfellows Local 151" – 5:21

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