Wednesday, April 18, 2012

R.E.M., "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)" (1984)


From the chronicles-of-taste files: Back when I was instinctively resistant to R.E.M.—around the time of Murmur, though I did like both the original "Radio Free Europe" single and the EP that followed, "Chronic Town"—a concerned friend wanted badly to swoon as much for Reckoning as he had for Murmur, and he wanted me agreeing with him too. So he sat me down for a listening session. This "I'm Sorry" song did the trick, leaping right off the album, one of the earliest and still best examples of Stipe letting loose with that semi-professional lunge thing he does, hitting and holding and soaring on a quavery big note, purely for its emotional high, with the band churning on well beneath him on the surface of the planet. I wouldn't be surprised if real fans considered this a little suspect, lurking in realms of the dread sellout, or at least unseemly emotional openness. For a bunch of mumbling introverts so determinedly guarded and even gnomic about their intentions, as only befits alt-indie heroics naturally, when they get after a song such as this it's pretty clear what a bunch of wallowing sentimentalists with dollar signs on their eyeballs they could be. I count that as a good thing myself. This song is about one thing and one thing only: the impossibly beautiful hook swelling out of the chorus on the plaintive "I'm sorry," which necessitated the parenthetical in the title (later dropped, evidently) as this was also the first single from the album, and even managed, way back in 1984, to crack the Billboard 100, peaking at #85. I don't believe I ever heard it on the radio even once. But I heard it a lot on my copy of the album, which I picked up soon after the scene detailed above. I've come around on Murmur finally too—consider it definitely superior to Reckoning now. But it's been a crooked road. I'm sorry.

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