R.E.M: 30 years of Document

On this day in 1987, R.E.M released what is arguably their breakthrough album, Document. It may have been their fifth studio album, but it took them from a little-known rock band from Georgia and kick starting their career to mega-stardom.

The album was quite served as a very literal document that captures Michael Stipe’s feelings during the presidential reign of Ronald Reagan, particularly on Welcome To The Occupation and Exhuming McCarthy. In a review by the New York Times around the release, Document was called “confident and defiant,” by Jon Pareless, adding “if R.E.M. is about to move from cult-band status to mass popularity, the album decrees that the band will get there on its own terms.”

Elsewhere on the album, there was the lead single, The One I love, which is often misinterpreted due to Stipe’s unique and clever word play. It is dressed up in Peter Buck’s lush guitar sections that blend together and form a classic piece of alternative Americana, yet in a 1988 interview, Stipe proclaimed that the song is “incredibly violent,” and is about using people over and over. And lest we forget the rapid fire lyrical cynicism of It’s The End Of The World ad We Know It (And I Feel Fine), which has aged really well and has a very poignant place in the 1996 movie that fans love to hate, Independence Day.

From Document, R.E.M would go on to sign with Warner Bros and eventually release the critically and commercially successful Out Of Time and Automatic For The People. After an illustrious and storied career, R.E.M would call it a day in 2011, but their impact and influence can still be heard in alternative rock bands today. Living in a divisive political age, Document could have been written and released in 2017, and still feels relevant 30 years later.

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