Sound — 10
R.E.M. were the darlings of the burgeoning alternative/college rock scene in the '80s, but they broke that mold with "Document." Their fifth album contains some of their most notable hits, such as "The One I Love" and "It's the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)", and quite a few hidden gems ("Disturbance At The Heron House", "Fireplace", "Welcome to the Occupation"), although each song on the album is superb in it's own right. "Document" sees the band looking back as well as forward as far as their styles. The minor-key jangle of "Welcome to the Occupation" hearkens back to "Fables of the Reconstruction," while the upbeat "Exhuming McCarthy" showcases the poppier tones yet to come on "Green". Peter Buck's guitar takes a more prominent role in songs such as "The One I Love", and though he plays with a little more overdrive than on previous albums, fans will be pleased to see that the R.E.M. jangle is not lost. Mike Mills' melodic basswork shines on songs such as "Lightnin' Hopkins", "Finest Worksong," and "Oddfellows Local 151", and, as always. Bill Berry's echoing drums add an almost dramatic touch on "Finest Worksong" and "The One I Love". The album is also precursor to the multi-instrumentalism that came with later releases, featuring saxophone solos ("Fireplace"), banjo and dulcimer ("King of Birds).
Lyrics — 9
Most notably on "Document", Michael Stipe has started singing clearly, and coincidentally gives some of his most powerful vocal performances to date, evidenced on "The One I Love", "Finest Worksong", and "Fireplace." His weakest performance is probably "Lightnin' Hopkins", with his voice taking on an uncharacteristically nasal whine, but it fits well with the manic guitar/bass interplay. As always, Bill Berry and Mike Mills provide pristine vocal harmonies. In R.E.M. fashion, "Document" features many political themes, e.g. "Welcome to the Occupation" and "Exhuming McCarthy," the latter even featuring a clip of a rebuke of Senator McCarthy from a Senate hearing, saying "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?" The perennial "It's the End of the World as We Know I (and I Feel Fine)" is essentially a 4-minute sociopolitical rant, influenced by the stream-of-consciousness style of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues." There is a recurring theme of fire (what Stipe considered the central lyrical theme of the album) in songs like "The One I Love", "Fireplace," and "Oddfellows Local 151." The original cover of the album features the words "File Under Fire" on the spine of the sleeve, and the video for "Finest Worksong" features an image of a globe burning in a furnace.
Overall Impression — 10
01. Finest Worksong - kickstarts the album with Peter's bright guitar and Bill's powerful drums. Mike provides great vocal harmonies and melodic bass. The song closes with some great guitar harmonics. 02. Welcome To The Occupation - a dark, jangly song reminiscent of their earlier work. The crisp acoustic guitar carries the melody and Bill's drumming provides a great rhythm. Michael's vocals are excellent. 03. Exhuming Mccarthy - a lively, upbeat song that opens with the click of a typewriter. Mike's bass provides the melody. The poppiest song on the album. My least favorite. 04. Disturbance At The Heron House - Peter's jangly leads steal the show on this song, which even features a nice little solo. Great melody and rhythm. Michael's vocals are crisp and clear. 05. Strange - originally performed by the post-punk band Wire. A simple song, two chords in the verse, two chords in the chorus. Peter's guitar is very overdriven but still retains it's melody. Mike and Bill provide great harmonies. Features another solo by Peter. 06. It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) - the most famous song from the album, known for it's fast-paced vocals and wonderful backing harmonies. Peter's guitar takes a backseat in this song but provides a great melody. Probably one of the best choruses the band has ever done. 07. The One I Love - a great guitar track with a recognizable riff and classy solo. Often misinterpreted as a love song, it is actually a dark tale of manipulation ("a simple prop to occupy my time") and abandonment ("this one goes out to the one I've left behind). One of their most famous songs, the bands first US top 10 hit. 08. Fireplace - another dark song with a melodic guitar intro. Bill's drumming is great. Features a saxophone solo over a guitar melody. Michael's vocals are great. 09. Lightnin' Hopkins - hectic and up-tempo, with vocals to match and a chant-along chorus. Guitar and bass intertwine in a manic rhythm. Great basswork by Mike. 10. King Of Birds - a melodic, almost folky song featuring dulcimer and banjo. Great vocal harmonies. Bill drums in a marching rhythm. 11. Oddfellows Local 151 - a dark, enigmatic song. Mike's bass keeps the melody while Peter plays feedback and guitar chimes. Features a nice guitar solo and feedback outro by Peter. Michael delivers yet another great vocal performance. Document not only marks R.E.M.'s transition from underground to mainstream, it is also their greatest leap forward at that point in their career. The album compares well with both their back catalogue and major-label releases, and was important in helping bring the alternative genre to the forefront of American music. If it were lost/stolen, I would quickly buy it again.