The band was writing songs fast and furious, so they were in the studio a year after Murmur to record the follow up. They had the same set up as most bands with a second album ... go back to songs that didn't make the first and see if they stick. Pretty Persuasion, Second Guessing, Harborcoat, and Rockville were all early staples of the beginnings of R.E.M. In fact, Rockville in it's early incarnation was almost a punk song it was so fast ... it was slowed down to a country feel in tribute to their manager Bertis Downs. Thank you Bertis ...
The album was recorded quickly (4 weeks), in a better studio, with better equipment, and more help. The result is definitely a more lush album. It received rave reviews from all reviewers and placed #1 on the college charts for some time, but it only made it to 27 on the Billboard charts. Part of the reason was the lack of a strong single. So. Central Rain and Rockville were released, but they didn't get much play, the album art is a touch inaccessible, and the songs are quite dark ... moody in fact.
In listening to the album a lot lately, it seems that it perhaps doesn't flow as well as it could. 7 Chinese Bros. is a strange second song choice, I constantly mix up Letter Never Sent and Little America (two travel songs), and Time After Time is a little boring. That said, as a whole the album is crisper and stronger than Murmur, mostly due to Harborcoat, Pretty Persuasion, and Second Guessing. Camera is perhaps the unsung hero of the album, and these days surely would've had a choir singing on the last chorus measures.
For my project, the stumbling blocks will come I'm sure with vocals on Pretty Persuasion and Harborcoat, although I'm really trying to sus out Mills' backing vocals and am almost finished. The rest of the album is pretty straightforward, but with plenty of turns of phrase, mumbles, and guitar riffs to keep me busy. Lots of water imagery because as Stipe said, the real name of the album if File Under Water. First up ... Harborcoat!