Second Hand: Document by R.E.M.

On a one man quest to rekindle the world’s love for records (read: killing a bit of time on a lunch break) I ventured down to the ‘bargain basement’ of Music and Video Exchange in Soho with a pocketful of loose coins and a desire to find myself something new among the old. As I browse the racks of what must be thousands of albums you get a feel for what must have been a golden era for the record from the ’70s to the ’90s, the highest selling albums of all time seemed to largely come from that period and as a result there seems a far greater concentration of pre-millennial albums. As my own music buying didn’t begin until the mid ’90s I’m going to try and venture a bit before my time in the hope of finding not lost classics but classics that weren’t on my radar.

My first such journey takes me to 1987 and R.E.M.’s Document. R.E.M. aren’t a new band to me, I never owned anything by them but I’m old enough to remember their commercial hay day of the early ’90s, when the likes of Shiny Happy People, Everybody Hurts and What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? were radio mainstays. If I’m honest though I dismissed them because their big pop singles didn’t really interest me, this despite the protestations of friends who claimed they’ve a rich back catalogue that was worth exploring. So rummaging through the albums in this basement the cover of Document takes my eye, flipping it over and browsing the track list the only song I remember is the beautifully titled It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine), a song which still got a bit of airplay at indie discos by the time I was old enough to enjoy them in the late ’90s.

This felt like a good place to start and so for the princely sum of £1 I bought the album and took it home. Putting it on the record player for the first time you get a sense for how timeless their sound is, good songwriting and musicianship never ages and for an album recorded almost 30 years ago it still draws you in from the very first song. Having initially dismissed R.E.M. as pop act I’m surprised as I listen to some of the lyrics and there’s real vitriolic anger seemingly directed towards politicians – eloquently phrased and expertly delivered I like what I hear.

As the album rolls on to the final track on Side A, It’s the End… I’m taken back to my indie disco youth and despite the lightning pace of the lyrics I remember almost all of them. Flipping over for Side B it turns out I know another song The One I Love, the lead single from the album and its biggest ‘hit’, the name didn’t ring a bell at the time but again I remember almost every word. The album’s first black mark is during Fireplace, when it loses me during a saxophone solo and all of a sudden you are taken back to the album’s ’80s origins where the saxophone solo reigned supreme. Luckily they pull it back as the guitars (and songwriting quality) return over the next few songs.

As the last chords of the album fade out I realise that after almost 20 years of prejudice it turns out I probably would like R.E.M., not a life changing discovery but a pleasing one for someone who’s attempting to get back into music without spending a fortune. A lot of the band’s albums graced the basement I’d previously visited and I’m resolved to return for more.

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