R.E.M make no great leap forwards for their second long player, rather edge forwards from the place they’d reached with ‘Murmer’. Now, this would be all fine and dandy if ‘Reckoning’ was as strong a set of songs as ‘Murmer’ had been, but sadly it isn’t. The ‘edging forwards’ I speak of manifests itself in a slightly clearer sound, slightly more confident performing and slightly more discernable Michael Stipe lyrics, although that last one is up for debate. It’s still pretty damn tricky to make out much of what he’s singing here! Maybe I’m wrong, maybe we simply have a case of a follow-up not being quite as good as the album it’s following. It happens all the time, and it’s certainly nothing to get too worked up about, especially when what’s here is still pretty fine on the whole. ‘Harborcoat’ sets the tone for the entire record. Is this phase two of ‘Radio Free Europe’? The same slightly anxious sounding rhythm propels this song forwards. Not much of a song until the chorus is reached, but when the chorus IS reached, this suddenly becomes a decent song. ‘Seven Chinese Brothers’ sounds like it’s been beamed straight across from ‘Murmer’ although it’s still initially difficult to get hold of. Repeated listening pays off, that little repeating guitar figure added to mysterious Stipe lyrics holds the song together. ‘So Central Rain’ opens with a ringing, distinctive guitar pattern after which Michael says sorry rather a lot. Still, a fine song this, especially the instrumental breaks where the drums start to beat out loud and clear, and rather funky they sound too. ‘Pretty Persuasion’ sounds astonishingly clear, an echo or ambience on the instrumentation, particularly the vocals which sound wonderful here. ‘Time After Time’ is a little weird with an eastern flavour, but it’s not unattractive or anything. More interesting drum work here, incidentally.
‘Second Guessing’ is a ROCK song, fast and with a steady beat you can dance to! It’s rather fun, you know? ‘Letter Never Sent’ is sub-standard ‘Murmer’, Michael mumbles a lot perhaps because the lyrics aren’t terribly interesting. The tune isn’t either, come to think of it. ‘Camera’ is very slow and dreary, ‘Don’t Go Back To Rockville’ a little country tune with swoon-some, life affirming harmonies and joyous melodies. Best song on the album, for me. ‘Little America’ closes the whole ‘Reckoning’ show with fast, anxious rhythms and a vocal where if you concentrate you can actually make out most of what the words are! It sounds strange coming after ‘Rockville’, almost like a different band, but it’s an ok song if judged by itself. Maybe that’s it? ‘Reckoning’ lacks the cohesion and overall atmosphere of ‘Murmer’. Maybe I’m labouring the point, because ‘Reckoning’ is still a fine album, with a bunch of hugely enjoyable songs on it.