R.E.M.’s follow up album, Reckoning, highlights the band’s by-then identifiable sound: jangly guitars, dance-able percussion, and mumbled, obscure lyrics. They collaborated with cult-following Southern folk artist, Howard Finster, for Reckoning’s album cover. (Finster also did the Talking Heads’ cover for Little Creatures.) Finster’s Paradise Garden and painted Coke bottles defined him to the public.
After years of decline, a local foundation renewed the property. You can even stay in an artist’s cottage for the evening! Finster’s place is a must-visit for fans of outsider art. As a dumb high schooler, my friends and I went there. Finster preached at us for hours, as he was known to do. It was a memorable day!
In the perennial Murmur versus Reckoning debate, I think it’s important to acknowledge the growth in the second album. Reckoning singles form the foundation of the new Southern music sound. The band demoed a couple dozen songs with Neil Young’s producer. Ultimately, they recorded with Don Dixon and Mitch Easter. This time, they captured the sound more like R.E.M.’s live shows than Murmur.
R.E.M. holds their old recordings, including demos. They celebrate the band’s milestones with incredible special releases and boxed sets. Definitely investigate these new releases.