Reckoning is usually ranked among R.E.M.’s elite albums, but to me it’s a solid entry in their excellent early catalogue. The dour Indie folk of Murmur has already altered somewhat, and the group are pursuing a more conventional college rock sound. Reckoning is punchier than previously, and less acoustic, but Stipe’s vocals are still low in the mix; he’s credited as the “lead vocal instrument”.
Opening track ‘Harborcoat’ demonstrates the potential of this micro-era of R.E.M., marrying an arrangement that’s more propulsive than anything on Murmur, opening with a Bill Berry fill, to a pretty folk rock melody that would have been right at home on that album. The other really effective rock piece is the closing ‘Little America’, which is one of the more fascinating and overlooked songs in the R.E.M. discography. Elsewhere, the material is slower, and lacking the unique atmosphere of Murmur. There are pretty songs like the atmospheric ‘Letter Never Sent’, the gently repetitive ‘Time After Time’, the bright country of ‘(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville’ (inspired by a girlfriend of Mike Mills), the apologetic ‘So, Central Rain’, and the enigmatic ‘7 Chinese Bros’.
I like Reckoning a lot, but there’s no really single fantastic track to push it over the top, and having heard Murmur and Lifes Rich Pageant first, it’s just a highly competent but somewhat unsurprising link between those two peaks.