IRS, 1984

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


In almost ten years of writing music reviews for The Daily Vault, I’ve mentioned the “sophomore slump” more times than I care to count. This refers to the pressure that an artist or band faces when working on their second album, especially when the first album was a hit. The resulting pressure and expectations usually ends up in a disappointing second release.

Someone obviously never told Michael Stipe and R.E.M. about the “sophomore slump,” since Reckoning, their second full-length release, was a major improvement over their debut effort Murmur -- itself a decent effort.

This disc is possibly best known for two singles, “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” and “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville,” and while these tracks are truly enjoyable, it’s interesting to note that they’re not the best on the disc. (When’s the last time you heard my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 that as a complaint, eh?)

Take, for example, “Pretty Persuasion,” a peppy little number whose use of the term “God damn” kept this one off the airwaves. Too bad, ‘cause this one could have easily been the track that turned R.E.M. into superstars a couple of years before Document. Likewise, “Harborcoat,” “Camera” and “Little America” are tracks that are just begging to be re-discovered.

Reckoning finds R.E.M. -- vocalist Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry – becoming more comfortable in their musical skin, and expanding on the roads they first started plowing on Murmur. If “Perfect Circles” on Murmur showed R.E.M.’s ability to do ballads, then “Time After Time (Annelise)” not only hammers it home, but makes it sound as natural as breathing. Likewise, tracks like “7 Chinese Brothers” and “Letter Never Sent” allow the band to push the envelope of their own style of alternative rock, never sounding like the progression was forced.

In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to say there is a single bad track on Reckoning -- though it doesn’t quite have the edge it did when it first came out 22 years ago. That’s not a criticism of R.E.M. -- I defy anyone to find an album nearly a quarter-century old that sounds as edgy today as it did back then – but it is a tad off-putting at times. But it is kind of weird listening to “So. Central Rain” today and trying to think back to when I was in college radio – hell, even that was five years after this disc came out -- trying to compare the 12-string work of Buck to that of Roger McGuinn and wondering if this might have been how The Byrds would have sounded in the ‘80s.

That’s the interesting thing about Reckoning -- namely, it leaves me wondering why this has become one of the forgotten discs in R.E.M.’s discography. (In all fairness, almost everything prior to Document falls into the same category -- each its own travesty, in my opinion.) Yeah, it might not have been a commercial blockbuster, but this disc definitely showcases a band maturing as songwriters and performers, and obviously making all the right decisions in those regards.

Rating: B

User Rating: B+



© 2006 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of IRS, and is used for informational purposes only.