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

I had only listened to document a few times, so when I listened to it again now, I should have made a reaction video, because some things really surprised me. I might have judged it a bit unfairly, there are a lot of good things on this album (and one musical misstep, I'll talk about below).

The album is basically a political protest album. REM never wanted to be shoehorned as a political band, but this album consists of 4 explicitly political rock songs and all the other songs deal with imagery of unrest and fire. It is a fitting album to listen to in these times. It is also a good opportunity to talk about the politics of REM.

Not so much the political activism, they are pretty much the usual for a 90s liberal band, supporting the democratic party and then being disappointed when a capitalist president is not going to make the grand systematic changes they were hoping for. There is this really funny video on youtube from the time they and other liberal bands had organised the Tibetan Freedom Concert in '98 and then were told that the president they had helped get elected (Clinton) isn't even going to meet with them. To their credit, their activism never reached the embarrassing heights of U2, mostly involved supporting their local community of Athens, Georgia and they (as far as I know) never committed grand scale tax evasion.

More interesting than their political activism is their internal politics as a band and business. REM is basically a workers cooperative. They do not call themselves this, but they describe themselves as radically democratic, each member sharing equal in income, decision making power and songwriting credits. Their legal entity (a LLC), which takes care of licensing etc is also equally controlled by them and their attorney/manager, meaning that they were always in control of their own business affairs. Peter Buck seemed to have come up with the idea, based on some ultra leftist bands they new in Athens. It seemed to have been a successful model, in 30+ years they never had to fight to keep creative control over their brand, never had any internal legal fights with each other and the only time someone left the band was because he wanted to be a farmer. Well done comrades.


This album is as hard rock and grunge REM can get. The lyrics are even more explicit politically, you can even understand the topic of the songs, which are anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist, especially Welcome to the Occupation and Exhuming McCarthy. It is missing the diversity from Lifes Rich Pageant, but it is the most "rock" REM album of the IRS era and it is understandable that they got a lucrative record deal with Warner after this album (can you hear the cries of "sell out" in the distance?). Except for King of Birds (my favourite song from the album!) it is entirely up or mid tempo. This album includes The One I Love and It's the end of the World as we know it. Both firmly established in the public consciousness now, even though one is chronically misunderstood and the other one is unintelligible and the ultimate karaoke challenge.

It also has a few songs which divert so far from the usual REM jangly guitar and into power chords (!), that I had to check a few times, if youtube had autoplayed away from the album. Strange (a cover), Oddfellow Local 151 (which I really like), Lightnin' Hopkins and Fireplace. Fireplace gets ruined by a saxophone solo. A saxophone solo is never a good idea. I listened in abject horror, I need a word with whoever had the idea. REM does not have a lot of genuine musical missteps (the next is on Out of Time), but this is one.

Shout outs:

  • Strange is a cover, so maybe not too surprising it is far from REMs usual style. Buck is playing power chords and doing a solo! It is as if they exchanged the guitarist for one song. I was kind of glad when it ended with Micheal and Mike harmonizing at the "duh", "duh" in the end, just for the familiarity

  • End of the World as We Know It: this song has endured 30+ years for a reason. It is a perfect pop song. There are too many hooks to count, the lyrics are wild, the baseline is walking up and down, the drum roll at the start is perfect, Bucks guitar is spot on and I especially love the short call and response of: "right?", "right!" between Stipe and Mills and of course all the backing vocals (Mills is singing "time I had some time alone" over the chorus, which is eerily fitting these days)

  • The One I Love, the song is basically a short guitar riff and the chorus of "Fiiireeeeeeeee!". It was one of the first songs I learned on guitar (5 chords) because REM ruled my life when I was 14.

  • King of Birds, Buck plays a dulcimer on this song, a folk string instrument from the Appalachians (I think he can basically play anything with strings). This song has my favourite vocal part of all REM songs "awaaaayyyyyyy!"

  • Closing thoughts: This is the last album of the IRS era. I don't think it is an album every record collection needs, though I liked it more after listening to it again. I will be making an REM IRS era playlist before we move on to Warner Bros. REM signing with Warner Bros and having become more and more radio friendly worried the "REM is selling out" crowd to no end. Green did not erase these fears, nor did it eliminate the worries from Warner, that REM might be a bit too weird. It is one whiplash of an album.

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