For my second single-band theme week (actually fourth, counting the two Beatles weeks I did several months ago) I am turning to another of my very favorite groups, R.E.M.
I’ll proceed chronologically today through Friday, as I did with Belle & Sebastian, hoping to demonstrate how the band’s sound has changed (or hasn’t) over the years.
Kicking the week off is ‘So. Central Rain,’ which I consider in many ways the quintessential R.E.M. song. Though their debut album Murmur was a critical success and a breakthrough for them, it was their second album Reckoning, and this song in particular, that really defined their sound.
They also made their television debut performing this song on Late Night with David Letterman, Michael Stipe shyly hiding in the background during the interview phase before singing the song while hiding behind a mop of curly hair. It’s bizarre to watch that clip now, seeing a baby-faced Mike Mills explain that the record label was offering Murmur at a discounted price to generate interest in the band. I’ve pasted the video it below the song clip… definitely worth checking out.
I’ve read that much of Reckoning was inspired by the death of a close friend of Stipe’s, and the repeated “I’m sorry…” in this song could be related to that. For the most part I try not to analyze R.E.M.’s songs, preferring to experience them emotionally.
Stipe’s early lyrics, when you can make them out at all, often make very little sense. On many of those songs, the sound of his unique voice wrapping around each syllable is somehow more meaningful than the words themselves.