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Dernier album enregistré pour I.R.S., Document ne marque pas pour autant la fin d’une époque – ça, c’était le rôle de Lifes Rich Pageant, l’année précédente. Peut-être y trouve-t-on des signes annonçant le triomphe futur de R.E.M ; mais l’essentiel n’est pas là.
Car ce qui frappe surtout, à l’écoute de Document, c’est sa détermination, qui insuffle aux morceaux une belle énergie (l’irrésistible « It’s the End of the World (As We Know It) »), voire une certaine dureté.
L’album ne laisse aucune place au superflu (les cuivres de « Finest Worksong », disparus au mixage), mais se concentre sur l’essentiel : guitare, basse, batterie, et, bien au centre, la voix d’un Michael Stipe osant enfin s’affirmer (le magnifique « Welcome to the Occupation »). Quant aux textes, s’ils confirment l’engagement politique esquissé sur l’album précédent, ils peuvent parfois se montrer bien retors ( « The One I Love », gifle cynique déguisée en chanson d’amour).
Après ce disque, R.E.M. exprimera à plusieurs reprises son envie d’enregistrer un album « rock » (d’où le lourdaud Monster ...). Etrange : cet album, le groupe l’a pourtant réalisé dès 1987 – et de fort belle manière - avec Document.
- Copyright 2016 Music Story
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"Document" propose un retour en arrière sur, entre autre, le Mc Carthisme et la Guerre Froide, la politique étrangère US en Amérique Centrale, et sur la persecution religieuse anglaise au 19ès,... Cet album,politique, est un état des lieux de l'Amérique et du monde, une constatation (comme en témoigne "It's the end of the world as we know it", hymne repris par Greenpeace). Michael Stipe à une voix ahurissante, parfois traînante et stridente. Un album énergique. Pur chef d'oeuvre
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The original album is well-documented (pun intended), so let me just focus on the specific merits of the 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition. In short, it's superb. They really got it right.
There's a booklet with excellent liner notes that puts this album in a historical context that's important in making sense of it, especially for younger listeners who weren't around in 1987. It was the tail end of the Reagan administration, and the optimism of his first term had given way to the Iran-Contra scandal, the increasingly stagnating economy, and a generally repressive atmosphere in the country. "Document" reflected all of that.
The sound of the deluxe edition is excellent. They haven't changed anything, but it's clean, rich and full-sounding, and that includes the live bonus disc, which has a great mix and really great sound for a live recording. If you've got a decent-quality sound system, crank this one up and you'll see what I mean.
Finally, there's the bonus live disc of a concert recorded in Europe on the "Finest Worksong" tour. I wish every single vintage album from "Exile on Main Street" to "This Year's Model" came with a bonus live disc from that year's tour. David Bowie's "Station to Station" did it, and I see it happening more and more, and I love it. Marketing-wise, it's a no-brainer. If you want a longtime fan like myself to spring for a new copy of an album he already owns, a live bonus disc is pretty tough to resist.
Now, R.E.M. also included a live disc on their "Murmur" re-issue and comparing their live sound in 1983 to their sound on this disc is night-and-day. Their early shows could be, frankly, hit-and-miss affairs when you really listen closely. I know seeing them live in the early days was exciting and great, mostly because they were one of a handful of great rock bands you could even see in the early 80s. But the truth is, a close listen to the live "Murmur" disc reveals a band still learning to play live--Michael Stipe's vocals, in particular could be flat in places and downright awful. By the "Finest Worksong" tour, though, R.E.M. was an experienced band who retained all the energy of their previous shows but they were all more mature, more under control, and fully capable of playing a flawless 90-minute set and just killing it, leaving everybody wiped out.
I recommend this set highly. If you've owned the album for years, as I have, it's never sounded better and the bonus disc makes it essential. If you're new to this record, buy it now--and this is the edition to have. It's worth the extra money.
This album's reissue presumably represents the finale in the REM-IRS reissue series, and it's arguably the most important album in their catalog and one of the most far-fetched albums in what would no longer be called punk rock. REM arrived at the tail end of punk's old guard, when labels like SST and Frontier were in their final heyday, and steered punk toward a provincial, folksy simplicity. Compare their first two albums to Dream Syndicate, Minutemen, and Green on Red, and you get a nice trajectory. But by 1987, things were very different: punk's tentative adulthood had to contend with MTV and "Joshua Tree" bombast, and REM knew to evolve. "Document" was a punk album with a shiny, energetic surface - but underneath, it was stranger, darker, and heavier than anything they had dared do before.
The key is not to make too much of the strong MTV-fueled singles, stellar and designer-simple as they are, and instead focus on the weird pieces elsewhere. "Disturbance at the Heron House", "King of Birds", and "Fireplace" are lyrically and musically so far off the map it's hard to imagine any band ever playing such music. By the time "King of Birds" devolves into a wind-blown dirge, you can hear shades of the emotional intimacy they would later pursue on post-Warners stuff like "Automatic for the People" and "Up" - mood music, heavy and deep and thoughtful and distant. "Document" beyond the hit singles is the sound of REM growing up, confident.
The extra CD here is just ridiculously good. A live show from the Netherlands that seethes with energy and power, this recording shows REM in their final IRS years as a live band with no equal, throwing songs off a cliff with ease. Listen to the way they twist "Exhuming McCarthy" and "Finest Worksong" into massive, hammering punishments. The singles are almost too much to bear in this context, Pete Buck going completely haywire like a seer discovering the full power of an unknown gift. At this point in their careers, REM was about to send punk rock on its way and embrace something bigger and more self-challenging.
And what a send-off it was. REM had taken punk rock from its hidden beginnings to a different place, and beyond that there was uncertainty and fame. But "Document" remains the "finest hour" (to quote a screeching lyric of imminent arrival), an album that really can't be measured against their earlier classics but one that stands in between the freer, Econoline van-tour era of their Athens origins and a worldly stage of big-message authority.
You listen to the first four cuts and think "Aha, another political statement from the band that brought you Lifes Rich Pageant the previous year." Taken together, "Finest Worksong," "Welcome to the Occupation," "Exhuming McCarthy" and "Disturbance at the Heron House" sound very much like a sort of State of the Union address. In each cut you get a different take on America - the dignity of its workers, the evils of its interference overseas, its historical insistence on conformity and its domestic paranoia. "McCarthy" has a few awkward moments, but overall the music displays this band's usual mastery of style and technique; these songs move. Then there's a cover version of Pylon's "Strange" and the whole thing breaks apart.
I can't help thinking that the interruption is deliberate. R.E.M. had played plenty of covers before, and even recorded a few, but this was almost the first time they put one on a regular album release, and it's about as close to punk as they had come. (There was "Superman" the previous year, but that one came at the end of the collection rather than the middle, and it was an obvious throwaway.) "Strange" is like a signal to the listener, saying "Whatever you think you've been hearing, that's not it." Then the band proceeds to prove it - the rest of "Document" has nothing to do with political commentary.
"The One I Love" and "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" both scored big on the singles charts, and I can't imagine why, since they're both among the slipperiest hits ever recorded. They're both terrific, mind - "One I Love" introduces a classic R.E.M. riff and a devastating lyric, and "End of the World" is both nice poetry and enormous fun. But the first of these songs doesn't mean what you think it does, and the second doesn't really seem to mean anything at all. Why in the world did the audience take to them so strongly? (I know, I know, they have good beats and you can dance to them, but still...)
The next two numbers are more R.E.M. American grotesquerie a la "Fables of the Reconstruction" - "Fireplace" is a pounding rock waltz about preparations for a hoedown that turn destructive and "Lightnin' Hopkins" is a vicious bluesy stomp that has about as much to do with the old bluesman of the title as the Ramones do (which may be more than I think, actually). And then "Document" closes out with a couple of straight-ahead surrealist nightmares, "King of Birds" and "Odd Fellows Local 151," with music straight out of a Ken Kesey Acid Test and lyrics by Salvador Dali or something. They wouldn't have been out of place on R.E.M.'s dada debut, "Murmur" - the music is folksy but driven, the lyrics are confusing but significant, the vocal and playing style shouldn't work but they do. It feels like you should be able to dismiss this stuff as self-indulgent, but you can't. It means something, dammit.
Taken all together, "Document" is about as disorienting as a game of blind man's bluff. It lurches from simple tunesmithing to scorching rock to something unidentifiable that drifts right through your head and back out into the sky. And here's a thought - in 1987, R.E.M. faced a number of important decisions, like what record company to sign with and whether to tour Europe. In short, they were getting famous, and I wonder if "Document" is the sound of a band trying to figure out whether to give its fans some good old-fashioned pop or stick with its twisted art-house roots.
Now, that's the kind of struggle can result in great music, when it doesn't produce a nervous breakdown instead. Fortunately, by the time R.E.M. had to face this pressure, they had been playing together for going on ten years and evidently trusted each other. So they could look outward and inward both at once, knowing that they had each other's backs. Every time Peter Buck bangs out a chord, or Bill Berry and Mike Mills trade backing vocal lines, or Michael Stipe hollers "Listen to me!", you can hear the band's defiance and excitement in the face of the world's demands.
"Document" is a summing up of R.E.M.'s career to that point, an important step to take before any giant leap. They may have felt fragmented, pulled in different directions, like that glass sculptor on the cover whose body is shattered in a million pieces by his materials, but there's no doubt that they were still in control of each piece. The following year they signed with Warner Brothers and handed in a collection of, as they said, "stupid pop songs." They'd earned the right.
Benshlomo says, The past is a springboard from which to jump, eyes shut, into the future.