Song of the Day #683: ‘Star Me Kitten’ – R.E.M.

R.E.M. unquestionably reached their commercial peak with Out of Time, but I’d argue that they reached their artistic pinnacle on their following album, 1992’s Automatic For the People.

Though the band initially planned to follow Out of Time with an album of hard rockers, they instead wound up producing a collection of dark, moody songs about death and uncertainty. This is a fine example of a collective artistic muse at work… despite their intentions, the music on Automatic For the People simply found its way out.

‘Ignoreland’ is the one broadly up-tempo song on the album and, not coincidentally, it’s the worst track here. In fact, though I like the song well enough, I’d say it’s pretty much the one thing that keeps this album from being perfect.

Automatic For the People is basically just one long string of highlights, from opener ‘Drive‘ through the soaring ‘Try Not to Breathe,’ the outrageously catchy ‘The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite,’ the seriously reflective ‘Sweetness Follows,’ transcendent hit single ‘Man On the Moon,’ and the gorgeous twin water-themed tracks that end it, ‘Nightswimming‘ and ‘Find the River.’

And that’s setting aside ‘Everybody Hurts,’ which has been overplayed enough to feel a little trite but, as a message song aimed at suicidal teens, it’s one of the more earnest, poignant efforts the band has recorded.

As with most R.E.M. albums, Automatic For the People anchors me in a specific time and place. And in this case, that anchor is among the most powerful of any album I own. As I’ve detailed once before in a Michael Penn blog entry, this album and Michael Penn’s Free-For-All occupied flip sides of a cassette tape that I played endlessly during the summer of 1992.

That was the summer I met my wife-to-be and I can’t hear either of those albums without reliving those experiences. It’s bizarre how a period in your life can manifest itself in your mind as something physically tangible… a smell, a taste, a muscle memory that etches a bookmark in your brain you can access as easily as a chapter on a DVD.

‘Star Me Kitten’ is an odd little song that kicks off the album’s stellar final third. This song has mood to spare, and I love the way Stipe’s rough vocals swim just beneath the shimmering surface of all those keyboards and the meandering lead guitar.

Keys cut, three for the price of one.
Nothing’s free but guaranteed for a lifetime’s use.
I’ve changed the locks
And you can’t have one.
You, you know the other two.

The brakes have worn so thin that you could hear,
I hear them screeching through the door from our driveway.
Hey love, look into your glovebox heart.
What is there for me inside? This love is tired.
I’ve changed the locks. Have I misplaced you?
Have we lost our minds?
Will this never end?
It could depend on your take.

You. Me. We used to be on fire.
If keys are all that stand between,
Can I throw in the ring?
No gasoline.
Just fuck me kitten.
You are wild and I’m in your possession.
Nothing’s free so, fuck me kitten.

I’m in your possession.
So, fuck me kitten.

9 thoughts on “Song of the Day #683: ‘Star Me Kitten’ – R.E.M.

  1. Amy says:

    First, that is just an odd choice for a video about Lord of the Rings. So odd.

    Anyway…. ah, the summer of ’92 🙂 Graduated from graduate school, got married, got my first teaching job, listened to Automatic for the People – good times. good times.

    This album represents the flip side of Reconstruction for me – the “grown up” album that is as much a part of the band as their “college” self – of course, I realize my perception says far more about me than it does about them.

    What I find myself wondering (for the second day in a row) is … why this SOTD? I understand not wanting to choose “Man on the Moon” or “Everybody Hurts,” but there are many other gems (as you noted) to choose. Admit it – you just wanted to publish the lyrics “fuck me kitten” on your blog. Confess! 😉

    I’m choosing to add “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” not only because I enjoy it so damn much, but because it has caused an ongoing discussion/debate for years regarding what Stipe is singing in those final lines (and repeated throughout the chorus). I just started playing this album for the kids yesterday, and listening to Daniel try to figure our if it was “Pony, try to wake her up??” or some other such derivation, just made me smile and brought me back. So… for your listening pleasure… and to throw in your own interpretation of the lyrics (without looking it up, for crying out loud!!!), I give you….

  2. Clay says:

    Call me when you try to wake her up. I’m almost certain that’s what it is, though I don’t know if there’s an official source to check it against.

    As for why this SOTD… ‘Nightswimming’ and ‘Star Me Kitten’ are my favorite songs on this album and I’ve already featured ‘Nightswimming.’

  3. Clay says:

    And yesterday’s pick, ‘Country Feedback,’ is one of my favorite R.E.M. songs, period, so that was a no-brainer.

  4. Dana says:

    I agree with Amy–your SOTD picks the last 2 days have been a bit confounding. “Country Feedback” is one of your favorite REM songs, period? Really? Well…er…okay then….

    As for today’s SOTD–not that I want to go there, but you know I will….could this be a favorite because it coincides with the beginning of, let’s just say, your “starring” with Alex? (sorry Peg, Amy, well really sorry everyone) I mean, it clearly is a sensual and seductive song, but I suspect that it is a favorite of yours because of the time and place it holds in your life.

    Now, don’t get me wrong, I like the song a great deal, but there are a number of other songs, mentioned by both you and Amy, that I might have featured. One of my personal favorites is “Try Not to Breathe” –one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard and a wonderful way to present the humanity of euthanasia. “Find the River” is also a standout. Oh hell, the whole album is just wonderful, INCLUDING “Ignoreland.” I have often said, and will say again, this is REM’s best album, period.

    Oh, and as for “Sidewinder” — I think Clay and I had settled on the line he posted above, but, just to be sure, I cheated and checked, and it appears that this is the correct line. Then again, I like the idea of a pony trying to wake her up:)

  5. Clay says:

    This whole album is a favorite of mine because it anchors me in a time and place, but ‘Star Me Kitten’ doesn’t do so more than any of the other songs. The song on here that most reminds me of Alex is the opener, ‘Drive,’ which I wrote about way back at SOTD #21.

    I’m guessing I’m far from alone in considering ‘Country Feedback’ a favorite. In fact, on the Murmurs.com boards right now, a “best R.E.M. song” poll is under way that has ‘Country Feedback’ at #3. (#1, incidentally, is ‘Find the River.’)

    I have a thing for angst-y R.E.M. songs, which is not to say that I don’t love the others you mentioned as well. I do. I came close to picking ‘Try Not to Breathe’ or ‘Find the River’ today.

  6. Dana says:

    Yeah, “Country Feedback” reflects a side of R.E.M. that I find a bit less appealing. Just a bit too moody for my personal taste. It is probably the reason why I gravitate more to the REM albums spanning from Fables to Automatic, then I do from anything much before or after that time.

    Nice to see “Find the RIver” getting some love though–that song is wonderful.

  7. Alex says:

    This is my least favorite song on this album – the only album I know by REM because, yes it anchors me in a certain time and place, but no Dana, not for that reason. I love Amy and especially Dana’s choices from this album I will forever refer to as Drive.

  8. Alex says:

    For what it’s worth I love this song, I think it’s absolutely genius.

  9. Hi there, I’m a few years late in replying, but just wanted to mention to Amy that I love the song Star Me Kitten, and cut a video clip from Lord of the Rings because Liv Tylor looked like a girl I once knew . (Sadly, I don’t look anything like the male counter part). Anyway, just wanted to clear up the ‘odd choice’ 😀

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