College radio continued to flourish in the mid ‘80s, and R.E.M. remained the centerpiece of this genre as they released their second album, “Reckoning”. For me, this is a better overall album than their debut, and like many bands, their sound grows more refined with time. Reading up on the recording of this album, it seems like there were often challenges getting the band to come together in the studio. Singer Michael Stipe was withdrawn and fatigued from tour and success, and the rest of the band had their moments as well. Ultimately, they dug in for two to three weeks and grinded out this collection of songs.
Interestingly enough, I would say the first two songs are possibly my least favorite on the record. They aren’t bad songs, but I find “Harborcoat” and “7 Chinese Bros.” to be among the more bland tracks from this album. Things notably pick up with “So. Central Rain”, one of the very best early R.E.M. tunes, and definitely one of the most memorable. The guitar riff is very recognizable among their early work, and Michael Stipe does some of his best and most empowered work on this track. Somehow, the next song had fallen a bit off my R.E.M. radar in recent years, but thankfully I was reunited with “Pretty Persuasion” on this album. The driving beat and their unique harmonies, along with the great melody of this chorus, quickly elevated this to my favorite song on the album.
“Time After Time (Annelise)” was my favorite new discovery on this record, and it really takes me back to the intellectually stimulating vibe that encompassed their sound. R.E.M. always sounded important and significant, and I always looked at them, even now, as a band I wanted to understand and appreciate as a way of rounding out my portfolio of music appreciation.
One more significant song I will point out on this record is one that has stood out to me for most of my career, based on the title. “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” has always made me wonder if it was inspired by Rockville, Maryland, a town I spend a lot of time in even in current times, due to work obligations. As I read up on it, I found out that in fact, it was Rockville, MD that was the source of this song’s story, as it was written by bassist Michael Mills imploring his then-girlfriend not to go back home. In fact, this song was personal enough to Mills that he usually assumed the lead vocal duties when they performed it live, which I love, and he does have a great voice that usual provides the high-harmony compliment to Michael Stipe.
“Reckoning” is a very era-appropriate record, and an important step forward for R.E.M. I really enjoyed having this one on the list for the new and old of what I discovered along the way.