Reckoning (File Under Water) by R.E.M.
IRS Records, 1984. Produced by Mitch Easter.
- 7 chineSe bros.
- so. Central Rain
- Pretty Persuasion
- Time After Time (annElise)
- second GuessinG
- letter Never seNt
- (don't Go back To) ROCKVILLE
- little america
The lettering of the above song titles reflects the packaging of the album
R.E.M.'s third release for IRS and second full-length lp. The seldom-mentioned subtitle--"File Under Water"1--refers to the abundant water imagery in the lyrics of the album. This is not surprising, as it was recorded following one of the largest floods in Georgia's history, a subject dealt with, albiet obliquely, in the song "So. Central Rain." Water in some form is mentioned in nearly every song:
the titles and lyrics of "Harborcoat" and "So. Central Rain"
"Seven Chinese brothers swallow in the ocean"
"Ask the girl of the hour by the watertower's clock" --"Time After Time"
"The water is evening now/The catacombs are filling in" "Letter Never Sent"
"Diane is on the beach, do you realize the life she's led?" -- "Little America"
And these are just the more obvious examples.
Musically, it is different from Murmur, which had a fairly monochromatic sound. On Reckoning, the production is a little cleaner, and sounds crisper. Moreover, there is a little more experimentation, such as the country sound of "Rockville" and the allowance of "jokes" such as "Rockville"'s funky intro. Also, if you can find the vinyl version, buy it. It contains a short musical piece at the very end, written into the groove. My cd doens't have this. It's mostly an instrumental, with Michael Stipe humming wordlessly on top if it. Rather strange, hypnotic-sounding.
The cover art--which shows a multi-colored snake surrounding white-on-black sketches of people in various states, was done by the Rev. Howard Finster, a noted folk artist who would collaborate with R.E.M. in their Southern Gothic period, which would fully flower with Fables of the Reconstruction. Also, the art contributes to the almost religious feel of the album--from the water imagery, to the title, to the snake, one can see the influence of the Bible Belt, and a dissatisfaction with it.
1. Two other R.E.M. albums have this sort of subtitle:
Document (File Under Fire)
Eponymous (File Under Grain)
Of course, we have three of the four traditional elements listed: water, fire, earth. Where is "air"? Anyway, aside from setting a certain thematic element to the albums, it does (as wunderhorn1 pointed out to me) parody the way that record companies used to catagorize music for retailers--"File under rock" "file under jazz", or, like the Sugar album, File Under: Easy Listening
As for "File Under Air," wunderhorn1 makes the good argument that Up would be "File Under Air" due to its abundant images of air, air travel, and the more atmospheric music.