Following on from the difficult though rewarding "Fables Of The Reconstruction" and "Life's Rich Pageant", R.E.M.'s final independent release, "Document", stands as the best thing they ever did.
Though R.E.M. have been criticised by some as the offspring of early 1980s pop music, this criticism could never be levelled at what they do on "Document". More than anything else, the music on "Document" is proof of the eccentricity R.E.M. were developing during their years at now-defunct independent label IRS.
Often seen as R.E.M.'s effort at "power pop", "Document" really was and is much, much more than that. The amazingly thing about this album is that the band manages to be incredibly funny on the standout "Exhuming McCarthy" and at the same time develop their musicianship into waters they were never to chart after moving to Warners. The dark "Fireplace" and "Lighning Hopkins" were equally brilliant: ominous, yet amazingly powerful for that.
The more familiar, famously sly "The One I Love" might not quite compare with these three tracks, but still it marks out the direction of their best-selling "Automatic For The People" album five years before the fact. "Finest Worksong", especially in its remixed version found as a bonus track, was a superb tribute to the past folk heroes in America. One can also see just how ironic Stipe wanted to be - and WAS - on "It's The End Of The World As We Know It" - in which he describes so well the realities facing us today.
A record that, though acclaimed in its time, is now often forgotten. Nonetheless, if you can only buy one R.E.M. record, it should be this one.