R.E.M – ” Reckoning ” Released April 9th 1984

Posted: April 9, 2016 in CLASSIC ALBUMS, MUSIC
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As R.E.M. looked to record the follow-up to ‘Murmur,’ the bar set for their second album, ‘Reckoning,’ was already exceedingly high.On this day in 1984, R.E.M. released their second album, ‘Reckoning,’ featuring the singles “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” and “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” . Produced by Don Dixon and Mitch Easter

For R.E.M., 1983 had been a momentous year. Though the Athens, Georgia, quartet had already achieved healthy sales for their independently released debut single, “Radio Free Europe,” and their IRS debut, 1982’s “Chronic Town” mini-LP, their full-length debut, “Murmur”, had exceeded expectations, selling over 200,000 copies

Instead of labelling the sides of the record as “side one” and “side two”, the sides were designated as “L” and “R”.
For the cover of Reckoning, Michael Stipe drew a picture of a two-headed snake, which he then gave to artist Howard Finster to fill in as a painting.

Reckoning is the second studio album by the American band R.E.M., released in 1984 by I.R.S. Records.  The album was recorded at Reflection Sound Studio in Charlotte, North Carolina over 16 days in December 1983 and January 1984.

R.E.M. rejoined their tried and tested production team at the studios, early in December 1983. Retrospective anecdotes from those involved have since claimed that the sessions lasted for anything from 10 days to three weeks (with the band taking a break for the Christmas period) straddling December 1983 and January ’84, yet what can be relayed with certainty is that all concerned wanted to record quickly and capture a record more representative of R.E.M.’s effervescent live sound. Dixon and Easter intended to capture the sound of R.E.M.’s live performances, and used binaural recording on several tracks. Singer Michael Stipe dealt with darker subject matter in his lyrics, and water imagery is a recurring theme on the record. Released to critical acclaim,

Separated by two weeks of canceled studio time that allowed the band to play a show in Greensboro, North Carolina, go out to see a movie, and shoot a video in the studio. While the studio diary listed 16 days for recording, the album sleeve later claimed the album was recorded in 14 days, while in interviews Buck at times commented that the album was recorded in 11 days. The producers both disputed that the sessions were that short; Dixon insisted that they were at the studio for at least 25 days (during which he worked eighteen-hour days), while Easter said “When I read ‘eleven days’ I thought, what the fuck! It was twenty days, which was still short, but it’s not eleven.”

Few singers can stuff as much complexity into a simple, one-word chorus as Michael Stipe. “I’m sorry” is a bit of a rote sentiment for a pop-rock ballad, but Stipe sells it here, yelping like a wounded dog in the space between verses. He famously refused to lip-sync for the song’s music video, which goes to show how seriously he took the lyrics and the elusive story behind them. Impressive as the vocal performance may be, it’s the other members of R.E.M. who make “So. Central Rain” such a crucial entry in the band’s discography. Peter Buck kicks things off with a riff that may as well double as the manifesto for jangle rock, and the rhythm section shines in a thundering post-chorus that borrows from the playbooks of Television and Joy Division while asserting R.E.M. as a forced to be reckoned with in their own right.

“Reckoning” also yielded two stone-cold classic singles courtesy of “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” and “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry).” Though it had been played live as far back as October 1980, the former was given an extensive studio makeover and eventually emerged as a country-roots anthem featuring honky-tonk piano and emotive vocal interplay between Stipe and Mills. Also Southern gothic-flavored, the glorious, melancholic sweep of “So. Central Rain…” was again accentuated by piano and a lush Stipe vocal, and it arguably remains “Reckoning’s” artistic pinnacle.

This time around, as Don Dixon put it, the group “wanted to rock out a bit more,” and Easter and Dixon were keen to accentuate the fiery, jangly spirit inherent in Buck’s guitar and Berry’s crisp, punchy drumming. To help realize this, Dixon utilized the “binaural” recording technique wherein two microphones were raised off the ground, roughly at the height of the average person’s ears, thus creating a recording that replicates how people actually hear sound. This method ensured that “Reckoning” sounded notably snappier than “Murmur”, not least on the album’s energetic rockers such as “Harborcoat,” the bright’n’breezy “Second Guessing” and the atypically anthemic “Pretty Persuasion,”

During the recordings there was pressure from I.R.S. Records to try to make the album more commercial. The label sent messages to Dixon and Easter, which the producers told the band that they would ignore. While the producers respected I.R.S. president Jay Boberg, they expressed dismay at the comments he made when he visited during the last day of sessions. Dixon called Boberg “record company clueless”, while Easter said “I got along with Jay Boberg OK […] but now and again he would express an opinion that would make me think, ‘holy shit’, because it would strike me as really teenage.” Buck said he was grateful that Dixon and Easter acted as a buffer between the band and its label. He said that “it got to the point where as much as I respected the guys at I.R.S., we basically tried to record the records so they wouldn’t know we were recording them!”, and explained that part of the reason why R.E.M. recorded the album so quickly was that the group wanted to finish before representatives from I.R.S. showed up to listen to it.

Musicotherapia: R.E.M. - Reckoning (1984)

The recording sessions were difficult for singer Michael Stipe, who, among the band, was particularly worn out by the group’s 1983 tour schedule. Getting usable vocal tracks from Stipe was difficult; Dixon recalled that he and Stipe would show up around noon each day before the rest of the band, but that “he was kind of shut down, and it was difficult to get him to open up”. While recording the song “7 Chinese Brothers”, Stipe sang so quietly that Dixon could not hear him on the tape. Frustrated, the producer climbed a ladder to a spot above the recording booth Stipe was in and found a gospel record titled The Joy of Knowing Jesus by the Revelaires, which he then handed to the singer in an attempt to inspire him. Stipe began reciting the liner notes from the album audibly, which enabled Dixon to move on to recording the vocal track to “7 Chinese Brothers” properly  (the initial recitation take was later released in 1987 as “Voice of Harold” on the later compilation Dead Letter Office.

For R.E.M., the frenetic touring of 1983 continued unabated after the release of “Reckoning”. The band’s second tour of duty in small-scale UK and European clubs was already underway when “Reckoning” was released, and, during the summer and early autumn of ’84, their Little America tour of the US saw them stepping up to larger auditoriums such as LA’s Hollywood Palladium and San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre, in California, and to New York’s Beacon Theatre on the East Coast.

Stipe and company continued to chalk up further successes before 1984 wound down, with their awards for Best Group and Best Album (for “Reckoning”) at New York’s CMJ New Music Awards ceremony in October gratefully accepted in their absence by Mitch Easter and I.R.S. personnel while the band were performing their highly anticipated debut tour of Japan. A further round of European shows – with R.E.M. again conquering cavernous indoor halls such as London’s Lyceum and Dublin’s SFX Theatre – then steeled the group for the British studio sessions which would result in their groundbreaking third album, 1985’s “Fables Of The Reconstruction”.

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