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I spent the last month listening to every REM studio album in chronological order - Reckoning

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I do not own this album. I listened to it (and any other album I did not own) on Youtube. This is how I found out that if you listen to any REM related playlist on Youtube, it will always play Bang and Blame from Monster when the playlist is over. I do not know why, it is far from one of their most successful singles. One of the great mysteries of the Youtube algorithm.

Reckoning
It is a continuation and a step forward from the sound of Murmur. IRS years REM developed their sound more organically, each record builds on the sound of the last, there is no Automatic for the People / Monster jump here. You still have the arpeggios (I love them), the melodic base lines (love them, too), mumbled lyrics mixed into the background, which make no sense (love them most of all) and Bill Berry's drumming, I still cannot comment on.

What is different?

The whole album sounds more confident, It is more straight forward rock and less post punk, compared to Murmur and much more upbeat. Some parts (Don't go back to Rockville) even come close to a country rock sound (I looked up old reviews to make sure I can say that without being crucified). The day I was listening to it I typed just a bit faster than usual, driven by the rhythm of this album and having tiny dance breaks in my chair. I think a lot of the good mood feeling of this album is due to the increased use of Mills' backing vocals (especially Harborcoat and Letter Never Sent), his voice is just such a ray of sunshine.

Stipe's singing developed a lot between Murmur and Reckoning (I think he took lessons, not sure though), he seems more confident carrying a melody, holding notes and using a wider variety of techniques. In early IRS years REM were mainly a live band, and songs were recorded after they had been played live first, the limited singing techniques (sorry Stipe) on Murmur might have been what he was confident to do live then and Reckoning happened after a lot more touring. Note worthy here is Time after Time, Letter Never Sent, the chorus from So. Central Rain ("I'm sorryyy!!!"). Not that the rest of the song makes much sense, but at least we know he is sorry about it:

Eastern to Mountain, third party call, the lines are down
The wise man built his words upon the rocks
But I'm not bound to follow suit
The trees will bend, the conversation's dimmed
Go build yourself another home, this choice isn't mine


Please let me know how you can dim a conversation, Michael.

Shout outs:
  • Harbourcoat is such a good mood song, love the little drum rolls throughout the song (I commented on the drumming!! yay me), the little riff as a bridge between verses and Mills' background vocals (he's the best)

  • I'm sorryyyy!!!! (had to mention it again, it is the beginning of the development of Stipe's vocal style which will evolve towards "a hundred million birds fly away, awaaayyy, awaaaaaaaayyyyyyy" in King of Birds (Document), my favourite vocal performance from Stipe of all the REM albums (goosebumps)

  • Time after time is such an interesting song, breaking up the light and rhythmic album with it's weird mystic atmosphere and is probably the best vocal part, understated but super pretty

  • (Don't go back to) Rockville is the only REM song I know of with lyrics from someone else than Stipe. Mike Mills wrote the lyrics to convince his then girlfriend to stay in Athens. They are sweet and straightforward. Ahhh, to be 20 and in love...

  • Letter Never Sent is like the future ghost of Out of Time and I'm in love with it and yes, mostly because of Mills' background vocals.


  • Closing thoughts: Is it an album every music collection needs? Still no, but if you want to listen to early REM and find Murmur and Fables of the Reconstruction too weird, this is your album. I did not own this album, but Murmur when I was a teenager (because of limited funds I could not get them all) and now I wonder if I had been a less moody teenager if I had chosen this one. I also chose Murmer over Fables of the Reconstruction, probably a good thing, because I would have turned out even weirder if I had. But this is for next time.



    I spent the last month listening to every REM studio album in chronological order - Murmur

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    This is going to be a series, where I talk about all the things I did during the covid-19 crisis, while other people learned a new skill.

    REM has always been my favourite band. I just relate to the awkward dorkiness and complete failure at being cool. At Christmas I finally digitalised my CD collection, including my collection of REM albums. I realised 2 things:

    1. My sister (Susanne!!!) abducted my copy of Out of Time to India.
    2. There are some REM albums I have never listened to.

    So I used the time I had in the office, working on excel sheets, to listen to all the REM albums, starting with Murmer. I'm going to give a short overview over each studio album in the upcoming weeks?, months? years? and say what I think about each.

    Murmur
    I'm going to start by talking about Gardening at Night, which is not on Murmur, but on the EP Chronic Town before Murmur which is not part of this list. Gardening at Night is one of my favourite REM songs (and one of their favourite songs as well!) and to me a must have.
    This song is where they found their sound. Buck's folky - arpeggiated guitar style, Mills' melodic base guitar, Stipe and Mills harmonizing in the chorus and Bill Berry's drumming (I don't know anything about percussion, so this is the last I will say about it), it's all there. The only difference is Stipes singing, on the EP version he sings in a strange falsetto, which he fortunately dropped quickly and for this reason I prefer the live version, which is on my special edition of Murmur.
    Go and listen to it. Now you know how early IRS year REM sounds like and if you like it, you will like Murmur. It has some generally great songs (9-9, Sitting Still, Moral Kiosk, Perfect Circle). In some songs Stipe's voice is mixed into the background (his choice, he treated his voice more like one of the instruments in the early years), which adds to the illegibility of the lyrics on the album (Murmer indeed). As Stipe became more confident with being a front man they stopped doing it. Last I can remember is on Monster (Let me in) and there it is more of a stylistic choice and great.

    Special shout outs to:

  • all the great base lines and arpeggios

  • the either deep or completely nonsensical lyrics (Stipe himself says they are just random words, which has not stopped fans from analysing them), which in later years will become more topical as Stipes confidence as song writer grew

  • Stipe and Mills harmonizing in the chorus of Moral Kiosk (the way their voices harmonize is really unique to REM and a key part of their sound)

  • how freaking beautiful Prefect Circle is. It's written by Bill Berry, who will not get much attention from me in this list as I know nothing of percussion. They usually do not say who is the main song writer of a song (credits are always all of them), but after Bill Berry left the band, they have been playing this song in his memory (? he is not dead, I don't know how else to say it though)

  • 9-9, for the crazy base and guitar rhythmic section driving the song and the murmerest of murmery lyrics, where literally only "conversation fear" is understandable


  • Closing thoughts: Is it an album every music collection needs? Nahh, if you like early 80's alternative rock or are really into REM, but otherwise only Gardening at Night (live) is a must have. It's not my favourite from the IRS years, but I keep forgetting how great 9-9 is, mainly because Feeling Gravity's Pull exists, but more about that when I talk about Fables of the Reconstruction.


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