“Reckoning” (1984)

Illustrator: Ruby Guthrie

In 1983, the college rock band R.E.M. burst onto the scene with their debut album “Murmur.” This album was very well received by music critics, most of which praised the quartet from Athens, Georgia for creating such an enigmatic post-punk experimentation. For R.E.M.’s sophomore album, “Reckoning,” they consciously abandon this experimental sound to return to the band’s garage rock origins.

The sound of “Reckoning” was created to better evoke the band’s live sounds. It does. This album further showcases Peter Buck’s guitar skills, as his jangles pair perfectly with the melodic basslines of Mike Mills. Each of the songs on “Reckoning” is an absolute classic, starting with the ringing of the opening track “Harborcoat” and ending with the hard rock rhythms of “Little America.”

When “Harborcoat” first starts, it sounds like the album is going to follow the blueprint the band established in their previous album, with Buck’s echoing guitar accompanying the fast pace of Mills’ bass and Bill Berry’s drumming, along with Michael Stipe’s confounding vocals. But by the third track, “So. Central Rain,” the album truly takes off. This song is one of the most quintessential R.E.M. songs from their years with the label I.R.S. Records. This song is followed by “Pretty Persuasion,” which is just an absolute jam. The rest of the album is also filled with excellent songwriting and tighter performances from the band.

It’s not often that a band can take a step backwards in terms of production and experimentation and it ends up being one of the band’s most iconic albums. R.E.M. made the exception.