R.E.M.: Document [DVD Audio]

Brian James


Document [DVD Audio]

Label: IRS
US Release Date: 2003-02-11
UK Release Date: Available as import

When R.E.M. finally broke through to mainstream success with 1987's Document, they did it the way musicians dream of. After loading up with critical accolades and rounding up a sizable fan base with incessant touring, they needed only to deliver an album that continued their steady artistic growth and featured a few catchy singles. That they did, giving the world "Finest Worksong", "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)", and "The One I Love" while keeping their indie credibility completely intact. Document provided the launch pad for R.E.M.'s phenomenal popular success, but more importantly, it staked out an ideal position for the band to develop. While their impressive sales guaranteed them a spot at any record company they chose, they had also displayed enough artistic integrity to give them the authority to change and grow as they saw fit. Quite simply, they had managed to become rock stars who could ignore financial concerns and write whatever music they felt like, a rare and enviable thing indeed.

Since R.E.M. has long since entered the American consciousness as a bona fide institution, it's well worth a trip back in time to the point at which they started becoming one and stopped being just another garage band. The release of Document on the still-trippy DVD Audio format provides an excellent opportunity to do just that while recasting the experience as simultaneously classic and modern, adjectives that apply equally well to the band itself. To begin with, the DVD-A can't be played on a normal stereo. In order for the experience to happen at all, you need a DVD player; in order for the experience to be worthwhile, you need stereo speakers hooked up to your DVD player; in order for the experience to be much more exciting than simply putting your regular copy of Document into your regular CD player, you need to have a surround sound setup connected to your DVD player. Sound elitist yet? It certainly explains the relative rarity of these things as of yet, and despite its epochal status, Document ends up providing as much trepidation as excitement about this new medium when experienced in it.

Just as DVD's reinvigorated the home video milieu with bonus material, so too does DVD Audio offer up extras to present existing works in sweeter packages. Music videos are natural choices, but tying them even more intimately to the way we consume albums further endangers the purely auditory musical experience, so it's nice to see that none are included here. The only special feature is a projection of the album's lyrics on the TV that flips automatically as the music plays. This is perhaps not the best thing for Michael Stipe's reputation, resting as it does on impenetrable mystique. When the words are laid so luminously bare, it almost seems as if the next time the virtual page turns, it will reveal that Stipe was an unregenerate bullshit artist who hoodwinked critics and laymen alike with his nonstop barrage of highbrow references and cryptic imagery. That wasn't actually the case, but some skepticism is only natural. Namedropping Lester Bangs was certainly a surefire way to get good notices from the countless writers doing their flaccid imitations of him, and Stipe's leftist concerns earned him earnest young fans apparently not put off by his vagueness. In the final count, though, it's hard to doubt his sincerity no matter how many artistic pratfalls it led him to make. Even when misguided, passion is more worthy of admiration than fashionable cynicism.

With regards to sonic innovations, DVD Audio boasts increased resolution for the diehard audiophiles, but its most notable feature is its use of the surround sound format. This yields more separation than has been possible in musical recordings since the advent of stereo, and while that's enough to make the disposable-income crowd go mad with lust, it remains to be seen whether or not this new trick is going to be a sonic landmark or a pricey distraction that will go the way of quadrophonic sound. In any case, it's a funny way to hear R.E.M., a band whose no-nonsense approach seems firmly at odds with such stuff. By resurrecting the sound of groups like the Byrds and Big Star, they stated that simplicity and directness are virtues strong enough to outlast flashy trends. With high-quality and virtually permanent pressings of this music already available for less money on compact disc, it's worth pondering: will this DVD Audio copy of Document last as long as its authors' careers or as short as, say, Gary Numan's?

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.