By Evan Ferstl
R.E.M., an underground, neurotic band from Georgia, entered 1987 in the midst of a transition. Their early records, characterized by Michael Stipe’s mumbling and Peter Buck’s jangle-pop guitar work, earned them a respected place on the college radio circuit. However, their previous album, “Life’s Rich Pageant,” saw the band reaching out to a new audience with straightforward alternative rock and crossover potential. Subsequently, the release of “Document” heralded the most successful phase of R.E.M.’s career, as the band endeared themselves to future generations with a string of radio-friendly hits.
Along with the stylistic change, the band peppers the album with political fervor. “It’s a sign of the times,” Stipe sings on “Exhuming McCarthy,” as he takes aim at the neoliberal, jingoistic consciousness of the decade. The band is as lyrically astute as ever, capturing the decade’s confusion and anger while also providing a rallying cry for the alienated left. “Finest Worksong” is a hard-hitting worker’s anthem, “The One I Love” is wonderfully ambiguous, and “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” is an exhilarating embrace of insanity.
The non-singles hold up fine enough, but none of them stand out as especially noteworthy. In fact, the raw emotional power that made R.E.M.’s early work so infectious is hard to find in these songs. This lack of depth hurt the album, making “Document,” though a decent, clever album, one of the band’s less remarkable releases of the decade.