Sound — 9
R.E.M. abandoned the enigmatic post-punk experiments of Murmur for their second album, Reckoning, returning to their garage pop origins instead. Opening with the ringing "Harborcoat," Reckoning runs through a set of ten jangle pop songs that are different not only in sound but in style from the debut. Where Murmur was enigmatic in it's sound, Reckoning is clear, which doesn't necessarily mean that the songs themselves are straightforward. Michael Stipe continues to sing powerful melodies without enunciating, but the band has a propulsive kick that makes the music vital and alive. And, if anything, the songwriting is more direct and memorable than before, the interweaving melodies of "Pretty Persuasion" and the country rocker "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville" are as affecting as the melancholic dirges of "Camera" and "Time After Time," while the ringing minor-key arpeggios of "So. Central Rain," the pulsating riffs of "7 Chinese Bros." and the hard-rocking rhythms of "Little America" make the songs into classics. On the surface, Reckoning may not be as distinctive as Murmur, but the record's influence on underground American rock in the '80s was just as strong.
Lyrics — 9
On Reckoning, R.E.M. has opted for a more direct approach. The overall sound is crisper, the lyrics far more comprehensible. And while the album may not mark any major strides forward for the band, R.E.M.'s considerable strengths, Buck's ceaselessly inventive strumming, Mike Mills' exceptional bass playing and Stipe's evocatively gloomy baritone, remain unchanged. If Murmur showed Buck to be a master of wide-eyed reverie, Reckoning finds him exploring a variety of guitar styles and moods, from furious upstrumming to wistful finger-picking. "Letter Never Sent" displays Buck at his sunniest, whirling off twelve-string licks with hoedown fervor, from a lock-step part in the verse that recalls early Talking Heads, to a cascading, Byrds-like riff in the chorus. Buck proves to be an equally infectious keyboard player; his echoey chords slide easily underneath Stipe's cry of "sorry" on the album's single, "So. Central Rain." And on "7 Chinese Brothers," Buck does it all: curt, distorted background chords, icy piano notes, warm chordal plucking and high-string riffs that drone as Stipe sketches, in a mournful hum, the fairy-tale story of a boy who swallowed the ocean. Yet, for all that aural activity, the song flows with elegiac grace. Stipe, whose voice is usually mixed way back, comes up front for "Camera," an enigmatic account of failed love that's enhanced by an eerie single-string solo from Buck. While less powerful than Murmur's "Perfect Circle," this ballad demonstrates a surprising degree of emotional depth in Stipe's singing. On "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville," a more traditionally structured country styled tune, Stipe stretches himself even further, singing in an exaggerated, down-home twang.
Overall Impression — 10
The most impressive songs on the album by far are "7 Chinese Brothers" "So, Central Rain (I'm Sorry)" and the hard rocking "Second Guessing". If it was stolen or lost I would buy a new one straight away, as this is a must for any R.E.M. What I love most about the album is the way band can mix an upbeat tone of the music contrast of the dark lyrics that are throught the album. What I don't like about the album is that it has only 10 songs and clocks in at under 40 minutes, so it almost feels it is over as soon as it starts. On the surface, Reckoning may not be as distinctive as Murmur, but the record's influence on underground American rock in the '80s was just as strong.