‘Disturbance at the Heron House’ - Document
Document is closer to Lifes Rich Pageant than to poppy Warner debut Green, except for two big differences: ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’ and ‘The One I Love’, bonafide hit singles if not quite top of the charts yet. This is the first of the Scott Litt-produced albums, and it’s clear and riffy.
The political themes are still here, and they’ll continue through Green and beyond. The peppy ‘Exhuming McCarthy’ has one obvious point of reference and appears to be digging it back up for Reagan, ‘It’s The End Of The World…’ is a whole load of things but present politicians similarly to how ‘Begin the Begin’ did, ‘Finest Worksong’ is labour-related and a call for engagement rather than retreat, ‘Disturbance at the Heron House’ is scattered around a protest or demonstration, and there’s a non-specific wholesale destruction in ‘Fireplace’ that’s probably not just thorough spring-cleaning.
‘The One I Love’ is, notoriously, a song misunderstood by the repetition of its title at the cost of the explicit description of using someone throughout the rest of it. It’s a pity, though, that ‘Kohoutek’ (Fables) seems to sort of slip under the radar as an R.E.M. love song - lost love, simile of a comet that’s lifetimes from reappearing.
The “fire!” repetition in ‘The One I Love’ shows up in, obviously, ‘Fireplace’, and as a startlingly similar “firehouse” in ‘Oddfellows Local 151’. ‘Fireplace’ also has prominent saxophone, and ‘King of Birds’ starts with dulcimer, and the driving, forceful overtone of the album accommodates each with equal ease.
A few of the songs turn back towards the rural, non-global scale. ‘Lightnin’ Hopkins’ takes in the blues musician and seemingly also death, but sweeps over the landscape too (“flat lands, low lands on the track/shows the water pan the track”), and the steady, insistent drums on this are really striking. ‘Oddfellows Local 151’ has a set of vignettes about winos that were local to Stipe (“behind the firehouse”), managing to compare them to both the Oddfellows fraternal organisation and to unions (‘___ Local 151’). It’s quite jagged, and the plays on words continue (“gathered up his proof”), but there’s a small world contained within it.
‘Disturbance at the Heron House’ is jangly in a way that has already become rare by this point, and it combines this with a very, very linear narrative in the lyrics. Though the album has some seriously strong deep cuts - ‘King of Birds’, ‘Exhuming McCarthy’ and particularly ‘Oddfellows Local 151’ - it stands out for being the synthesis of the band they had been and the changes that had happened since this style dominated, as well as being a great song on its own.