Mostly because I won't be finished with 'Camera' until next week, I thought I'd post some thoughts so far. I am increasingly aware that many details of my tabs and lyrics are hazy. In the excitement of posting new knowledge I feel that sometimes I am glossing over other things. For instance, when a song is difficult lyrically, I tend to spend less time on the guitar and vice versa. In looking at other lyric and guitar sites, my blog is definitely the most comprehensive and accurate R.E.M. knowledge site on the internet, but I have this goal of perfection. That said, there can never be perfection as the band has admittedly changed lyrics and music since these recordings. However, the albums are the documents (pardon the pun/ reference) of the songs. It is the songs in this state that is important to the groups fans.
Again, it is not my goal to interpret any of these songs, although I have done a little of that, the songs are mysterious for a reason and there is no greater knowledge to be gained simply personal knowledge. I think every member of R.E.M. would be proud if any of their songs means something special to a fan, but they are not going to postulate theorems about anything. The songs are what they are, in their deconstructed state and patchwork meanings, they are more than the sum of their parts.
I have been reading a number of books about the early days of the band and there is a concerted effort to create some mystery and to avoid mainstream traps. They skirted early record deals claiming they were not ready, which points out that they had certain career goals in mind. Whenever they got close to a deal, something seemed to pull them away and perhaps it was mostly Berry's knowledge of the business that informed the group most. Berry worked with one of the Copeland brothers before R.E.M. signed with IRS which gave him and the band an amazing entrance door, but also serious connections when it came to touring and college promotion. However, by the time of Reckoning, the band was tired.
The seeds of larger things were perhaps sewn during this time period. The band was okay financially, but they were rally full time men. By the end of Fables, they had toured for 5 1/2 years straight. They are at the 4 year point here during Reckoning and are clearly tired. "Voice of Harold" is a case in point here, being Mitch Easter's way for Stipe to drop in for "7 Chinese Bros." One thing that occurred to me reading their biographies is that the end of IRS is already on the wall. If you notice on Document, their last in a 5 album deal, the number 5 is very prominent and there is obviously a reason for that. The release of 'Dead Letter Office' before Document is on purpose so that they can have more control. Lifes Rich Pageant is a full pop album in a very easy manner and extremely accessible to contrast the dark and difficult stress of Fables.
There will be more on Fables later, but an example can be made by noting that they went into the studio with far fewer songs than either Murmur or Reckoning. They had to write and perform an entire album in a matter of weeks, something they had never done. Only a couple of the songs had been written as they usually wrote songs--during soundchecks from the road.
In the end, Reckoning is the final comfortable pairing with Mitch Easter and Don Dixon and while most people see the end of Fables as a departure from one era to another, I feel that Reckoning is the end of the early group that was almost known as 'Cans of Piss.' After this, success and realization set in. This is their career, their job, their life's work. Is it any wonder so much doubt creeps into the next album?
So onto Camera, Rockville, and Little America ...