Tuesday, March 02, 2004

#56) R.E.M. - Reckoning (released in 1984, I got this on CD in middle school from my Mom's CD club. Me and my sister would put initials in the catalog next to the albums we liked and she usually got us about one a month each)

Their first decade of work is so consistently excellent that picking a favorite usually says more about you than the album quality. I think it's fitting that a lifelong fan like myself should enjoy Reckoning most: it's the only album that mixes the jangly, dreamy sonics of their initial work (which I consider their finest period) with the straightforward "rock" of their late-'80s albums (whose singles were my introduction to the band). While this album, which used to be in my top five of all time, dropped in value once I begun to revere coherency in song, I still marvel at Peter Buck's Rickenbacker riffage and a growing appreciation for groove has made the Mike Mills-Bill Berry rhythm section all the more impressive (check out how they make "So. Central Rain" bounce more than country ballads from collegiates usually do).

The song structures are open compared to the insular folk-disco of Murmur - "Don't Go Back To Rockville" is their first genre exercise, "Camera" a blatant power ballad while "Pretty Persuasion" and "Second Guessing" pummel more nakedly than, say, "9-9," but the sound is still ephemeral and mysterious compared to the arena rock yet to come. Michael Stipe means less and less to me as time goes on, but when Mills and Berry harmonize on the choruses of "Harborcoat" and "Letter Never Sent," the voices achieve beauty for beauty's sake, arguably not saying much but creating plenty (chants like "heaven is yours," "she will return," "here we are," and "goddamn your confusion" aren't without their signifying power). Reckoning was recorded in a spirited week, and the audible, effortless brilliance of these ten songs will always impress me.

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