Editor's note: On the new comedy podcast "R U Talkin' R.E.M. RE: ME?", hosts Scott Aukerman and Adam Scott dive deep into the legendary Athens band's discography. Local superfan Tim Kelly is reviewing the podcast for Flagpole.
Adam Scott on R.E.M.’s fifth studio album, Document: “For a while it was my favorite R.E.M. album—what I thought was their indisputable best.”
I have a certain affection and love for every R.E.M. album, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve been patiently waiting for the Scotts to get to Document. It was Out of Time that introduced me to the band, but it was Document that spiraled me into (healthy!) obsession. For years, Document was the album I had at the ready when, during R.E.M.-related conversations, the inevitable question would arise: “So, what’s your favorite alb-"—“DOCUMENT,” I would excitedly respond. How could anyone disagree? This was it. R.E.M. was transitioning from acclaimed, mumbly, moody college-rock group to “America’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band” (™, Rolling Stone). The last album on IRS, the culmination of everything before, the prequel to everything that was about to come.
And yet… I’ve listened to this album countless times this year alone. But not in a meaningful, critical way, maybe, ever? Hearing Scott dissect these tracks (poor Lightnin’ Hopkins!) was painful. Adam talks at length in this episode about how Document was the album that made him an R.E.M. fan. Document was the second R.E.M. album I ever bought after Out of Time, which was THE album that made me an R.E.M. fan. But in many ways, it was Document, more than Out of Time, that pierced me and never let go.
After listening to these episodes, I’ve tried to determine why that is. What I keep coming back to was that Out of Time was such an event, a cultural touchstone of the '90s. Everyone knew it. But Document was mine. I was knee-deep in "Exhuming McCarthy" while my classmates were skipping over "Low" to get to "Shiny Happy People." I fancied myself the 13-year-old hipster—my friends may have stumbled upon "It's the End of the World," but did they know, did they truly understand, the brilliance of "King of Birds" or "Oddfellows Local 151?"
So it came as a shock to me, as the podcast delved deep into these albums as only a “comprehensive and encyclopedic” examination of R.E.M. can, that I found myself doubting 13-year-old me. Maybe Tim Kelly circa 1991 wasn’t a music tastemaker? Maybe Document isn’t unimpeachable?! Furthermore, WOW, isn’t Life’s Rich Pageant an absolutely amazing album? Funny how time and perspective can change things.
For years I’ve been living a life, in a body that believed that the best R.E.M. album was Document, and now I’m not so sure. Now, I’m pretty dang sure it’s Life’s Rich Pageant. My gosh, look at that track list: "Begin the Begin," "These Days," "I Believe," "What if We Give It Away," "Superman" and of course "Fall on Me"—the song that was playing as soon as we turned the car on to bring our first son, Luke, home from Athens Regional Hospital after he was born. The first song he ever heard.
And ah, there it is. We change, our tastes change, but music is about more than notes or how a band becomes more skilled as they perfect their craft. It’s just as much about where you are, WHO you are when you first hear that song, that album you love. Document will always hold a special place in my heart for being the album that dried the mortar between the bricks that cemented me as the R.E.M. fan for life. But damn, Pageant is fantastic start-to-finish, and Luke had one helluva soundtrack to the first car ride of his amazing life.
Highlights from the Scotts:
Tim’s Stone Cold Classics:
Life's Rich Pageant: "I Believe"
Document: "Disturbance at the Heron House "