It may be R.E.M.'s insistence upon operating as a fully democratic entity that has allowed them to shapeshift so completely and convincingly. Whether crafting a subdued folk song or an over-the-top glam rock stomper, R.E.M. have always embraced their chosen approach completely, even if it means former drummer Bill Berry laying low for an acoustic number or singer Michael Stipe handing off a lead vocal to bassist Mike Mills. On their sophomore LP, Reckoning, those polymorphous tendencies find root as palpable, electrifying, yet-unexplored potential. (...) Reckoning couples the energy of Murmur with the experience of a group that has spent a few years touring and recording, documenting that crucial moment when a band's ideas and ambitions are overtaken by the unique chemistry of its players.
Case in point: As with countless songs written before and after it, "So. Central Rain" takes up the simple phrase "I'm sorry" as its chorus. But the combination of Stipe's strong-yet-unmistakably-fragile voice, Berry's nervous drumming, and the melodic interplay of Mills' bass and Peter Buck's guitar imbue these well-worn words with remarkable force and meaning. For all the arty, pretentious gestures the band was given to, Reckoning shows that they were not afraid to embrace the universal, to transfigure clichés rather than ham-fistedly avoiding them (see also "Everybody Hurts").
As with its predecessor, Reckoning finds R.E.M. touching upon different styles while working within a fairly consistent aesthetic. The latter half veers a bit towards Americana, without sacrificing any of the momentum built over the album's stunning opening tracks. Slight embellishments go a long way towards highlighting the band's versatility-- a propulsive piano line in "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville" elevates the homespun whimsy of Stipe's voice, and hand percussion on "Time After Time (Annelise)" hints at the more understated turn the band would take with Fables of the Reconstruction.
'Reckoning'  (57 MB - 192 kps):