Having reached a somewhat surprising level of critical acclaim with their first album, R.E.M. knew it had to thread the needle for their follow-up, living up the expectations without turning out a rehash of their full-length debut. They chose to take a simpler approach, recording the album quickly and putting a slightly greater emphasis on a guitar-rock sound. Armed with such soon to be classics as “So. Central Rain” and “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville,” Reckoning avoided any hint of a sophomore jinx and served to further build R.E.M.’s reputation.
The rockers like “Harborcoat,” “Pretty Persuasion,” and “Rockville” are my favorites from the album. The latter, a country-tinged plea to a departing girl written by Mike Mills, has a nice veneer of “I don’t care that much” covering its “Oh yeah I really do care” core, and Michael Stipe does a fine job bringing both elements forth. The other two – well, I’m not sure what they’re about, per se, because this is Stipe at his least decipherable. But they’re fun songs, and the energy of Peter Buck’s guitars and Bill Berry’s drums shines through. Mills’ layered background vocals on “Harborcoat” really help carry that song along as well.
The slower songs are no slouches, either. I admit I can’t really listen to “Seven Chinese Brothers” without hearing “Voice of Harold” instead, but it’s still a fine song. (The two songs share the same backing track, but the latter has somewhat more unorthodox lyrics.) “Time After Time (Annelise)” is a rather somber song that demonstrates Buck’s chiming guitars at their most melancholy. Stipe shows off his voice’s emotional range in “So. Central Rain,” aiming for an air of detachment on the verses before delivering an almost pleading repeated “I’m sorry” for the chorus. First performed without a title on David Letterman’s show, “So. Central Rain” quickly became one of the band’s standout songs. In fact, it was the only track from Reckoning to receive its own video, in which Stipe sang the lyrics rather than lip sync. (The band also put together Left of Reckoning, a short film that used the LP’s first side as its soundtrack.)
Reckoning is not an album I pull out of my CD collection for a full listen very often, but several of its tracks are standbys of my MP3 playlists. It’s a strong effort and a worthwhile milestone in R.E.M.’s development.
After R.E.M. achieved international success with Warner Bros., IRS Records re-released the band’s early catalogue overseas with additional tracks, mostly live performances and remixes along with the occasional b-side. These additional tracks remain unavailable on U.S. versions of the album.
- Harborcoat (3:51)
- Seven Chinese Brothers (4:15)
- So. Central Rain (3:11)
- Pretty Persuasion (3:53)
- Time After Time (Annelise) (3:59)
- Second Guessing (2:50)
- Letter Never Sent (2:57)
- Camera (5:21)
- (Don’t Go Back to) Rockville (4:34)
- Little America (2:56)
(Track listing reflects original U.S. release; foreign re-releases contain additional tracks)
Released by: IRS Records/A&M
Release date: 1984
Total running time: 38:11