Saturday, December 24, 2022

REM #2: Reckoning (1984)

Release Date: April 9, 1984

Members: Michael Stipe (vocals); Peter Buck (guitars); Michael Mills (bass, keyboards); Bill Berry (percussion)

Produced by Don Dixon and Mitch Easter

Track List: Harborcoat; 7 Chinese Bros; So. Central Rain; Pretty Persuasion; Time After Time (Annelise)

Side Two: Second Guessing; Letter Never Sent; Camera; (Don't Go To) Rockville); Little America

Anticipation for REM's second album was high after the glowing critical response to their debut record Murmur. Their follow-up Reckoning more than lived up to the promise of Murmur, offering ten tracks of modern pop that would influence alternative music in the decades to come.

"Harborcoat" opens the record with Strip's catchy inane lyrics combined with cryptic imagery and Peter Buck's swinging guitar riffs. Cavalier in its disdain for what passed as mainstream pop, then sidles into covert punk.  The melodic "Seven Chinese Bros" was based on a children's book and according to Stipe a relationship that went wrong. Lyrics aside, the sound has an epic quality. "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)" became a minor hit and remains a popular track in REM's catalog, Stipe's impassioned vocal marked a shift to a more direct approach.

"Pretty Persuasion" is a moody, hard driving pop song with Peter Buck's versatile guitar playing. Bill Berry's drumming on "Time After Time (Annelise)" provides a martial cadence in a retro folk rock song. "Second Guessing" feels a bit tossed off, but the harmonies sound great. "Letter Never Sent" utilizes more vocal harmonies and suggests spiritual longing. "Camera" feels inspired by the first Big Star record with Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, heavy weeping guitars and emotive vocals.

("Don't Go Back To) Rockville" shifts to a more Americana sound, written about a former girlfriend of Mike Mills deciding to back to her hometown, including cheeky lyrics like "You'll wind up in some factory/that's full of filth and nowhere left to go." Stipe sings the song on the record but Mills usually sang when played live. "Little America" references Roman and American history, surreal imagery of an agrarian past one sees when driving through rural country. 

Reckoning marked REM as a band evolving with ever more ideas, versatile in both style and approach. 

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