Album Review: REM - Document (25th Anniversary Edition)

17 September 2012 | 10:27 am | Ross Clelland

A record of its time, and timeless in the way it did everything so well.

A quarter of a century on, this is a Document of change. REM's fifth album was not only their breakthrough, but the moment when lines blurred – in a good way. When the music of the 'alternative' made its way onto the radio and the charts and meant that pop music could be more than pretty but empty dance pop, or overwrought rock trademarked by that deformed bastard child; the power ballad.

This was/is music with substance and melody: a band knowing who they were, and what they were about, with a new clarity. Michael Stipe, while certainly still singular and idiosyncratic, was doing more than mumbling the cryptic. To come out with something as honest and emotional as their first proper mainstream hit, The One I Love – even though it had its own mysteries – let in so many more.

New producer Scott Litt also helped. He became one of their main touchstones through the decade in which they were sometimes the biggest band in the world. As well revealing Stipe's musings, he captured Peter Buck's guitar jangle and the band's other textures better than ever before. From the opening statement of intent that is Finest Worksong, through the still-copied tumbling wordplay of It's The End Of The World As We Know It, it still left space for the more left-field – such as Fireplace's bent waltz.

This new edition contains all the extra artwork and ephemera you'd expect, plus a contemporary Dutch concert that catches some of their surprisingly ragged fire. Document's themes of politics – personal and of the wider world – make it a record of its time, and timeless in the way it did everything so well.

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