Monday, August 02, 2010
Anyone tracking along with the career of R.E.M., 10 years, seven albums, three top 40 singles, an indie success story and major label signing sellout down the line, had by this time probably pretty well made up their minds about how they felt. Late as usual to the party, this is where I finally decided I liked them, and quite a bit, hardly suspecting that, with the possible exception of "Drive," this is the last decent thing they would push into the top 40—and even knowing already that the album that spawned it, Out of Time, came with its share of flat patches and embarrassments (the follow-up, for example, "Shiny Happy People"). Oh well, you can't be right about everything. But I don't think there's much question I'm right about this: from the mandolin leading the charge to Michael Stipes's newfound clarion enunciation to the soaring melody, it's poignant, touching, inspiring, unforgettable. Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, the enunciation is in the service of lyrics that have to be characterized as unclear, if not impenetrable, if not outright opaque. "Oh no, I've said too much / I haven't said enough" indeed. But this is what R.E.M. does and has always done best. The words don't say it—the sound of the music and the texture of Stipes's voice itself does that work. Even without the telltale word "losing" in the title (and that other one, "religion," and don't forget "my") it's not too hard to tell that this is a song about loss and faith and enduring and love in spite of everything. This was a big moment for alternative rock and its many sincere and hard-working followers. The whole world was poised to open for them. They were about to achieve everything they wanted.