Essential New Music: R.E.M.’s “Document (25th Anniversary Edition)”

You know what says “timeless classic”? Twenty-five years of hearing cringe-inducing covers and still getting chills up your spine when you hear the originals. We’ve had to listen to coffee-shop twits, karaoke hacks and turd-peddling cover bands butcher Document’s signature hits for as long we can remember. If we had a dollar for every dingleberry who flubbed the lyrics to “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” we’d be sitting on a pile of Pez dispensers and boat shoes so big you could see it from space. If we hear another cornball First Name Last Name mumble-mouth their way through “The One I Love,” we might have to unleash some Old Testament-style fury.

It’s ugly. But not ugly enough to dull the brilliance of Document, even after a quarter-century of awfulness-by-association. Yes, the singles have been driven into the ground by unimaginative radio playlists and clueless open-mic attendees, but the deep cuts are what made this a winner in the first place. The menace of “Oddfellows Local 151,” the swagger of “Strange,” the political pop-hooks of “Exhuming McCarthy”—these are the things that make for a truly phenomenal album. Round it out with Appalachian ragga “King Of Birds,” jangle anthem “Disturbance At The Heron House” and, of course, “Finest Worksong,” and you’ve got one of the most timeless of all classics. Just don’t cover the singles; that’s all we ask. Plus there’s a classic cassette-era bootleg from the band’s 1987 European tour—arguably R.E.M. at its peak—as a reminder that these guys were one of the most dynamic live outfits to emerge from Reagan’s America.

—Sean L. Maloney