Review Summary: R.E.M. strike the balance.
Rapid Eye Movement – the anti-establishment entity than everyone can agree on. Never moreso than in ‘Document’, a head-on collision of no-nonsense alt-rock and scepticism. Well yes, it’s ironic that these against-the-grain ideals, more likely to be heard from a megaphone in the hands of a protest marcher, are on the airwaves. Then again, there’s nothing the masses like more than a good tubthumper – an art, upon hearing such irresistibly rousing numbers as ‘It’s The End (etc)’, it would seem that the band practically invented. A healthy dose of cynicism is at the heart of this suitably apocalyptical frenzy, and makes for a brilliantly odd contrast against the funtime kinetics. It’s this trademark party-though-the-world-is-ending ethic that endears ‘Document’ to the listener, and the success of this is the success of the album.
Yes, this is perhaps the peak of R.E.M.s rebellious appeal – a masterclass of guitar driven rock in combination with a charismatic frontman, a passionate, scathingly witty, almost romantic denouncement of ‘The Man’. It means that when the college radio attitudes find their way out of campus to take their stand against the real world, they are not found wanting. The package they come in, alt-rock of the utmost style, accomplishment and impact, assures that they win the hearts, then the minds, of all its listeners. This isn’t quite the R.E.M. of ‘Murmur’ – experience has matured their sound, giving it the muscle and direction needed for the band to break out proper. Neither is it the incarnation of the band that recorded ‘Out of Time’ and ‘Automatic for the People’ – this effort shows less sentimentality, is less imposed upon by mainstream sentimentalities, and so the political disquiet that fuels the fire isn’t dampened down. ‘Document’ is a sweet spot for the band, a sound refined and honed by experience, yet with ideals undimmed; just the right level of radio-readiness to appeal to the masses, and punchiness of sound to best evoke their uncompromising agenda. If there’s a criticism to be made, it’s the lack of innovation; it’s a refined sound, yes, but a little formulaic in places. But it’s a formula that works – “Offer me alternatives and I decline!”, they say with a lovable swagger. For sure, ‘Document’ is an album that doesn’t compromise.