Saturday, December 29, 2012

Sharpening Stones, Walking On Coals

Original Facebook post here.
Today's formative-album play-through: Document. Along with Murmur, this was the only R.E.M. album I liked immediately (the others took a number of plays for me to love), though on entirely different terms. This is less the ravishing, finely sculpted, impressionist Southern rock they began with than the band's opening bid for the arena, and it's as single-minded and forward-driving as the stabbing guitar notes that open the record ("The time to rise has been engaged," indeed).

But the record offers more than a clenched determination to rawk; there's also a sense of abandon, of fun, exemplified not only by the obvious "It's the End of the World" but by the tossed-off "Strange" and even "Disturbance at the Heron House." I find "Lightning Hopkins" a bridge too far, but I love that they close with the weird, sinister "Oddfellows." Clearly they intend to make a Dylanesque rock ascent, with their eccentricities intact, as much as a pop crossover (though they'll do both in the coming years).

For a variety of reasons, this was the last album of theirs I took to heart; maybe the listening curve with Green was too steep, or I just had enough R.E.M. in my bloodstream, but I've never really attended to their subsequent work (I'll get there in due time).

Alison Heathwood McCormack When you get there I will guide you. Listen to the Unplugged version of Heron House.
 Ken Munch Love this album. "Welcome to the Occupation" is the stand out track, in my opinion. One of their very best.
David Cote This album got me through senior year in high school and sent me off to college. Its weird Southern weave and spice somehow got tangled up in the New Hampshire gothic that I was living through—and both romanticizing and desperate to escape. "King of Birds" was personal anthem for a time. Beautiful, terrifying, sad.
Rob Weinert-Kendt The line "A mean idea to call my own" jumped out at me like scripture, had to Google it to confirm it was original. I think I've underestimated Stipe as a phrase maker.
Jerry Kernion One of my all-time favorites, Rob. I believe that as time passes, Stipe will be labeled as one of the best rock poets ever. Back in the day when this album and the ones around it came out, the lyrics were mostly a mystery that was continuously argued about over a lot of beers and a pipe with water. They were always very hard to define due to the intricate phrasing and the way he used his voice as another instrument within the song. I loved him for that. Even now that you can find all of the lyrics easily spelled out for you, they still spark great discussions and allow for hours, if not days, of interpretation. "King of Birds" was also one of my favorites. It spoke to Stipes true nature of humility, that was often misinterpreted as aloofness. After all, when I saw them for the first time in a very small auditorium in Columbus, OH., Stipe would come out and introduce a song and then retreat behind a black curtain at the side of the stage to actually sing it. He was beyond stage-frightened. Hard to imagine now.
Mark Kelley This was the album when Stipe's lyrics became discernible. The albums before were like watching these lyrics becoming a photograph in darkroom solution. On "Document" pictures (lyrics) are finally visible - through your R.E.M. (rapid ear movement) naturally - you just didn't use so much of it as with their previous work; and never had to again. It was the point when they became a mainstream band. Interesting that it was approximately around the same time as when MTV really took off.
Rob Weinert-Kendt @Mark: I half-agree, but what's interesting about going back to basically every record after the aptly named MURMUR is how many lyrics are in fact quite discernible (if less than incomprehensible). It's still a long way from here to "Everybody Hurts," but everything from "Rockville" to "Driver 8" to "Fall On Me" aren't as obscure as Stipe's rep suggests. The big difference with DOCUMENT is the producer, Scott Litt, and the clear intention: to rock in the big leagues. I really do think "Finest Worksong" counts as a manifesto for the band's newfound rock ethos.
 Rob Weinert-Kendt (i meant "less than comprehensible," of course, though "less than incomprehensible" would make a great putdown, come to think of it)
 Mark Kelley All well said and not wrong in the slightest.
 Rob Weinert-Kendt More or less, yes. Never thought of the title "Document" quite that way, that's interesting. And there are still a lot surreal, inscrutable lyrics on it ( and from what little I know of their subsequent output, the trend of almost-but-not-quite-clear lyrics continued).


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