Follow TV Tropes


Music / Document

Go To
"The time to rise has been engaged."

Document (R.E.M. No. 5) is the fifth album by R.E.M., released in 1987. Their final album with independent label I.R.S. Records, it laid the groundwork for the poppier style the band would adopt on later albums, continuing Lifes Rich Pageant's shift away from their older, murkier sound. The album was also their first to be produced by Scott Litt, who would produce all of the band's albums up until Bill Berry's departure in 1997; Litt was hired at the recommendation of Lifes Rich Pageant producer Don Gehman, who the band initially wanted to produce Document, only for him to be unavailable.

The album produced three singles: "The One I Love", "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)", and "Finest Worksong". Of these three, "The One I Love" gave R.E.M. their first taste of mainstream commercial success, becoming their first single to sell beyond just the alternative/indie crowd, peaking at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at No. 2 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The album itself was also a major mainstream success, peaking at No. 10 on the Billboard 200 and being certified platinum by the RIAA just five months after its release; the album would eventually be certified gold in the UK as well.

This success would lay the first stone in the band's path to international superstardom, which would culminate in the smash success of their breakthrough album Out of Time four years later. Additionally, the success of Document and its associated singles would, alongside other releases that year such as 10,000 Maniacs' In My Tribe, U2's The Joshua Tree, Midnight Oil's Diesel and Dust, New Order's Substance, and Depeche Mode's Music for the Masses, herald the entry of Alternative Rock into the American mainstream.


Page Side
  1. "Finest Worksong" (3:48)
  2. "Welcome to the Occupation" (2:46)
  3. "Exhuming McCarthy" (3:19)
  4. "Disturbance at the Heron House" (3:32)
  5. "Strange"note  (2:31)
  6. "It's The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" (4:05)

Leaf Side

  1. "The One I Love" (3:17)
  2. "Fireplace" (3:22)
  3. "Lightnin' Hopkins" (3:20)
  4. "King of Birds" (4:09)
  5. "Oddfellows Local 151" (5:21)

Document is the Trope Namer for:

"Throw the tropes into the fireplace":

  • The Alcoholic: "Oddfellows Local 151", as Peter Buck told Q Magazine in 1992.
    "That song is actually about all these winos who used to live down the street from us. They used to live in cars. We call them the The Motor Club. These old guys would sleep in the cars and drink all the time. I think there was a guy called Pee Wee as well. Michael [Stipe] knew them because he used to live right next door to them. Every once in a while you’d give them five bucks or drop off a bottle."
  • Anti-Love Song: "The One I Love", in which the narrator describes the title character as "a simple prop to occupy my time" and quickly drops them for "another prop."
  • Call-Back: The album is given the official subtitle File Under Fire, harking back to the "true" File Under Water name for Reckoning. In the same vein as File Under Water, File Under Fire alludes to Document's harsher sound and imagery, referring to both literal fire and gunfire.
  • Cover Version: "Strange" was originally recorded by Wire on their debut album Pink Flag.
  • Darker and Edgier: While Lifes Rich Pageant still had its share of lighter tracks among its heightened aggression, Document lacks any real breather episodes and sports an even harder sound with more overtly political lyrics, resulting in the dourest and angriest album the band had put out up to that point.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: The album cover is one of the band's most elaborate, being a series of photographs taken on top of each other through exposing a single negative frame multiple times at different orientations. The end result is a collage-like jumble of images that fits the chaotic settings that the album describes.
  • Face on the Cover: Michael Stipe appears as the cameraman on the album's front cover.
  • Hot Men at Work: The video for "Finest Worksong" features muscular, shirtless men working at a metal factory.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Keeping in line with R.E.M.'s tradition of giving custom names to their LP sides, vinyl and cassette copies list a "Page" side and a "Leaf" side.
  • Limited Lyrics Song: "The One I Love" consists solely of one verse and chorus repeated three times; the third instance of the verse at least changes up the line "a simple prop to occupy my time" with "another prop has occupied my time."
  • Line-of-Sight Name: "Lightnin' Hopkins" is not about the blues musician. They titled the song that because guitarist Peter Buck had brought a Lightnin' Hopkins album to the studio.
  • Longest Song Goes Last: The 5:21 "Oddfellows Local 151" both dwarfs every other song on Document in length and closes out the album.
  • Motor Mouth: Michael Stipe famously prattles off the lyrics of "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" at supersonic speed.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • "Lightnin' Hopkins" opens with a nod to the same "now I lay me down to sleep" bedtime prayer quoted in "9-9".
    • "King of Birds" features a similar sound and structure to "Time After Time (Annelise)" off of Reckoning.
  • New Sound Album:
    • Keeping in line with R.E.M.'s tendency to make each album sound markedly different from the last, this one ramps up the harder sound of Lifes Rich Pageant to create an even more overtly aggressive direction, with many tracks featuring a greater use of processed guitars and harsher lyrics that presage the coming of Tin Machine two years later, as well as R.E.M.'s own album Green a year after this one. This shift certainly worked in the band's favor, as it occurred concurrently with the shift in public favor towards harder, noisier rock as the most "authentic" form of music.
    • A less prominent but still significant addition on this album is the band using synthesizers for the first time on their records, having previously shunned them out of a desire to avoid any radio-friendly clichesnote . Specifically, Carl Marsh is credited with playing the Fairlight CMI on "Fireplace", and "Oddfellows Local 151" features synth strings in the middle and outro of the song. The presence of synths is still incredibly light for the time (for one, the Fairlight is impossible to notice, in part due to it being sample-based), but it's definitely a noticeable step away from the total absence on previous albums; R.E.M. wouldn't more heavily incorporate synthesizers though until the Pat McCarthy-produced albums between 1998 and 2004.
  • Non-Appearing Title:
    • All the words in the title "King of Birds" appear in the song, but not in that order.
    • "Lightnin'" appears plenty in "Lightnin' Hopkins", but not the titular blues singer's name itself.
  • One-Word Title: Document, "Strange", "Fireplace".
  • Packaged as Other Medium: The album cover is stylized to resemble a spread-open paperback book cover, complete with wear and tear at the book's "spine".
  • Protest Song: Document is still probably one of R.E.M.'s most overtly political albums (the result of frontman Michael Stipe's romantic affiliations with 10,000 Maniacs frontwoman Natalie Merchant, herself no stranger to protest music), and as such many of the songs on the record count as this. To name a few particularly standout examples...
    • "Exhuming McCarthy" equates the reactionary Red Scare promoted by U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy in The '50s to the nation under Ronald Reagan in The '80s. It includes a Sample of Joseph Welch famously asking McCarthy "Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator ... You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?" during the Army-McCarthy hearings and the end of the song includes the line, "Meet me at the Book Burning."
    • "Welcome to the Occupation" is about American intervention in Central America.
    • Some analysts speculate that "It's The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" is one to the general state of the world in the waning years of the Cold War, with the lyrics implicitly equating the United States and the Soviet Union as similar in their use of authority, military might, and control of the general public.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: In "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)", the namedropping of Leonard Bernstein recites his name as "LEO-NARD-BERN-STEIN!"
  • Record Producer: Scott Litt, this being the first of six albums he produced for the band. R.E.M. themselves are listed as co-producers, though they claim they didn't really do any actual producing.
  • Rhythm Typewriter: "Exhuming McCarthy" starts with the sound of a manual one, played by Michael Stipe. The typewriter used is in fact the same one that Stipe wrote the band's lyrics with at the time; he'd switch over to an electronic typewriter for Green and eventually a computer from Automatic for the People onward.
  • Shout-Out:
    • "Exhuming McCarthy" features Mike Mills singing "it's a sign of the times" during the hook; Prince's Sign o' the Times and its Title Track came out before and during the recording sessions for Document, and author Marcus Gray noted in his 1996 book It Crawled from the South that the reference was intentional (given that Prince, like R.E.M, was commonly viewed as one of the more left-field acts in the industry).
    • A truly unlikely example. "Fireplace" is based on a speech by Mother Ann Lee, an 18th Century leader of the religious sect the Shakers.
    • "Disturbance at the Heron House" contains references to Animal Farm.
    • "King of Birds" includes the phrase "my kingdom for a voice".
    • The Stylistic Suck "off-center printwork" cover is a noticeable homage to a similar technique on initial pressings of Elvis Costello's This Year's Model.
    • "Lightnin' Hopkins" mentions "birdlands," which may be a reference to Patti Smith's song "Birdland" from her debut album Horses.
    • "Lightnin' Hopkins" and "Oddfellows Local 151" both feature David Byrne-inspired scatting from Michael Stipe.
  • Singer Namedrop: The cover of "Strange" changes the line "Joey's nervous and the lights are bright" to "Michael's nervous and the lights are bright." Note that there was never anyone named Joey in Wire's lineup.
  • Something Something Leonard Bernstein: "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" is the Trope Namer, derived from how Bernstein's Punctuated! For! Emphasis! namedrop is one of few parts of the lyrics that most listeners remember.
  • Special Guest: Steve Berlin of Los Lobos plays the saxophone solos on "Fireplace"; the band specifically sought him out because of his improvisational skills and how they could contrast the rigid structure of the rest of the song.
  • Stylistic Suck: The album cover is deliberately designed to appear as if it was misprinted, specifically being noticeably off-center.
  • Title-Only Chorus: "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)"
  • Word Salad Lyrics: "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)", the lyrics of which were derived from a dream Michael Stipe had.
  • The X of Y: "King of Birds", "[...] the End of the World [...]"
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Invoked with the original line in "Welcome to the Occupation", "Hang your freedom fighters", changed to "Hang your freedom higher" at Bill Berry's request.

Alternative Title(s): REM No 5