Wow, where to start? Life's Rich Pageant was the beginning of the new R.E.M., but Document carried over that blueprint and improved on it. This album is the beginning of a more assured group and Don Gehman was the beginning of that ... enter producer Scott Litt. I think we can safely call the next four albums the Scott Litt era. The days of wine and roses and the peak of popularity for the band. It was also the last album of a contract, so they were challenged to put their best foot forward. I don't think it was meant as an F.U. to IRS, but it sure turned out to be. IRS was on the way out anyway.
There is not one song on this album that is not driven. In fact, it's a bit exhausting to listen to. Even 'King of Birds' has that military drum beat that urges you forward. The lyrics are, as with LRP, in the front and on the whole understandable. Yet there is still a mystique. I think Michael Stipe's greatest success is bringing the lyrics forward without sacrificing the mystery of exactly what he is trying to say and what he is actually saying. He is quoted as saying he thought 'Disturbance at the Heron House' was his clearest narrative ever. I'm assuming it was tongue and cheek, because the song is entirely metaphorical.
'It's the End of the World' and 'The One I Love' were everywhere. They were finally embraced by mainstream rock radio and MTV, the videos were still odd, but they were now watchable while still being artistic. I personally think that 'The One I Love' might be the best recorded song of all time. Every aspect of that studio session is perfect and also perfectly representative of the band's past, present, and future. If I was chosen one track to play from this band to represent to someone who had never heard them, it would be 'The One I Love.'
Also personally, Document was my summer job soundtrack. I had it on a long play cassette with Tracy Chapman's 'Matters of the Heart' while I painted walls for my high school. If you are ever having a tough day at work and need to put your nose to the grindstone, I highly recommend the album. As for 'Matters of the Heart' I'm not sure why, but it works too.
As for instrumentation, apparently the band switched it up a little so as not to get too stagnant. The only extra accompaniment we get here are horns and dulcimer. Make no mistake, this album is about as straightforward rock as you can get without pandering. It is the emergence of the band being rock stars on their own terms.
File Under Fire ... next up Finest Worksong.