Not long after wrapping the tour in support of their debut, R.E.M. returned to the North Carolina studio where they made ‘Murmur.’ With Don Dixon and Mitch Easter once again producing, the sessions for ‘Reckoning’ went quickly and smoothly.

No surprise, since the band had worked out most of the new songs on the road throughout 1983. All that was really needed was a dose of the moody atmospherics that made ‘Murmur’ a hit with college-rock radio.

But ‘Reckoning’ isn’t exactly a sequel. The chiming guitar riffs are sharper, the melodies are tighter. And Michael Stipe’s lyrics, still mumbled and indecipherable, remain obscured in their artiness. ‘Reckoning’ isn’t a better record than ‘Murmur,’ but it sounds fuller and more developed.

And while R.E.M. and their producers were under instructions by the record company to make a more commercial album, things really didn’t change much from the ‘Murmur’ sessions.

The bright hooks that dominate ‘So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)’ and the twangy ‘(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville’ are relatively radio-friendly, but there’s no getting around the band’s oblique view of pop music. Like ‘Murmur,’ ‘Reckoning’ filters punk, post-punk, folk and country through an indie-rock aesthetic.

‘Reckoning’ reached No. 27 a few weeks after its April 16, 1984, release, charting a bit higher than ‘Murmur.’ And ‘So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)’ managed to climb to No. 85 on the pop chart. But more than anything, the album solidified R.E.M.’s status as college radio’s reigning kings.

For the next year’s ‘Fables of the Reconstruction,’ the Athens, Ga., quartet headed to England to work with a new producer and further evolve their signature sound. ‘Reckoning,’ along with ‘Murmur,’ is the one that sealed that sound in the first place and with it their legacy.

Watch R.E.M.'s Video for 'So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)'

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