Originally released in 1986, R.E.M.’s ferocious fourth album marks the four piece's transformation from cult deep south mystics into a world-beating stadium act. They're at their most ferocious and cerebral here, engaging with their subject matter head-on instead of weaving more of the inscrutable folk rock of the first three albums. Producer Don Gehman’s insistence that Michael Stipe make himself heard sees the singer shed his inchoate mumbling to sound like a furious fire-and-damnation southern preacher on the killer opening attack of Begin The Begin and These Days, two songs that set out a political agenda railing against greed and the vacuity of eighties America. Fall On Me, a Byrds-infused lament on man’s inhumanity to the environment, is a genuinely moving moment under-pinned by Mike Mills’ most yearning harmonies and Peter Buck’s pointed Roger McGuinn arpeggios (for his part, drummer Bill Berry never sounded crisper or shaper). Cuyahoga continues the ecology theme that would find full bloom on Green some three years later. Elsewhere, The Flowers of Guatemala is another tear duct worrying moment while the abrupt shift from banjo to sweet guitar jangle on I Believe underlines the leaps forward R.E.M. were making. Within a year they’d make the dark and deadly serious Document and seal their reputation as one of the most consistently great acts in rock history.

Alan Corr