Song of the Day #681: ‘World Leader Pretend’ – R.E.M.

I mentioned last week that Fables of the Reconstruction was my introduction to R.E.M. Well, now we arrive at the first album of theirs to be released after I was a big fan.

1988’s Green was their first release for Warner Bros. Records and became their biggest hit yet. It featured the ubiquitous (and let’s face it, annoying) single ‘Stand’ as well as the hard rocker ‘Orange Crush.’

And while it has its moments, which I’ll get to, I consider Green one of the band’s worst albums.

That might come across a bit harsh, but it’s simply a mathematical fact that if you line up a list of albums (or a list of anything, really) in order of quality, some will wind up the worst of the bunch. I don’t mean to equate “worst” with “bad,” however, because Green isn’t a bad album. It’s just not a great one.

That said, this is another R.E.M. album that serves as a musical time machine for me. Fables of the Reconstruction is one, and another is yet to come. This one puts me smack dab in the middle of 10th grade… I can practically smell my house and room in Northern Virginia when I listen to it.

Green is split between some of the band’s most straight-forward, poppiest music and some of their most experimental. Songs such as ‘Stand,’ ‘Pop Song 89 and ‘Get Up’ are quite the contrast to the more free-form ‘You Are the Everything,’ ‘Hairshirt’ and ‘Wrong Child.’ As a result, the album has a bit of a personality disorder.

Probably not coincidentally, the highlight of the album fits somewhere in between those two poles. ‘World Leader Pretend’ is a mid-tempo ballad that remains one of my very favorite R.E.M. songs and single-handedly elevates Green as a whole.

This song marks the first time an R.E.M. album contained lyrics printed in the sleeve, though they were limited to just the lyrics of this one song. My theory has always been that Stipe wanted to make it clear that he was saying “raze” and not “raise” in one late verse.

I sit at my table and wage war on myself
It seems like it’s all…it’s all for nothing
I know the barricades, and
I know the mortar in the wall breaks
I recognize the weapons, I used them well

This is my mistake. Let me make it good
I raised the wall, and I will be the one to knock it down

I’ve a rich understanding of my finest defenses
I proclaim that claims are left unstated,
I demand a rematch
I decree a stalemate
I divine my deeper motives
I recognize the weapons
I’ve practiced them well. I fitted them myself

It’s amazing what devices you can sympathize…empathize
This is my mistake. Let me make it good
I raised the walls, and I will be the one to knock it down

Reach out for me and hold me tight. Hold that memory
Let my machine talk to me. Let my machine talk to me

This is my world
And I am the world leader pretend
This is my life
And this is my time
I have been given the freedom
To do as I see fit
It’s high time I’ve razed the walls
That I’ve constructed

It’s amazing what devices you can sympathize…empathize
This is my mistake. Let me make it good
I raised the walls, and I will be the one to knock it down

You fill in the mortar. You fill in the harmony
You fill in the mortar. I raised the walls
And I’m the only one
I will be the one to knock it down

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #681: ‘World Leader Pretend’ – R.E.M.

  1. Dana says:

    I don’t listen much to this album either, maybe because it contains the extremely overplayed “Stand,” but more likely because it’s just not as good as Fables, Pageant or Automatic for the People. And if I want commercial REM, I prefer Out of Time.

    Not sure about your theory regarding the lyrics–it seems the following line clarifies that he is saying raise rather than raze. Has he ever said why he put these lyrics on the sleeve?

  2. Clay says:

    He says both raise and raze… but you’d only know that by reading the lyrics. Hence my theory. As far as I know, he’s never said why they printed just those lyrics in the liner notes of Green.

  3. Flor says:

    I can’t source it, but I’m pretty sure I heard Stipe say somewhere that this song was the first time he felt his lyrics could stand on their own, as a poem. I agree.

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