Song of the Day #688: ‘You’re In the Air’ – R.E.M.

In 1997, a year after the release of New Adventures in Hi-Fi, R.E.M. founding member Bill Berry, their drummer, chose to leave the band to live a quiet life on his farm. His departure followed a scare a couple of years earlier in which he collapsed onstage with a brain aneurysm. No doubt that sort of thing causes you to reevaluate your life in short order.

Beyond playing the drums and a host of other instruments, Berry was an active songwriter for R.E.M. (the full band is credited with writing all of their songs, though Berry’s name has specifically been attached to such classics as ‘Man On the Moon,’ ‘Driver 8’ and ‘Can’t Get There From Here’).

And his musical contributions aside, I don’t think it can be overemphasized how much the absence of a family member means to the family he leaves behind.

For that reason, it’s legitimate to say that R.E.M. essentially ceased to exist after 1997. Certainly it was the end of R.E.M. as we knew them (and we didn’t feel fine). Sorry, that was lame.

But despite coming very close to breaking up entirely, R.E.M. pressed on and recorded one of their most divisive and experimental records, 1998’s Up. Rather than bring in a replacement drummer, the band opted to try different sorts of percussion and base the new tracks more around keyboards and distorted guitars.

I called New Adventures in Hi-Fi one of the band’s most underrated efforts, but I believe Up holds the title in that regard. It didn’t sell well and was met with a collective shrug by critics. But it’s a grower, and in my estimation one of the more impressive albums in their discography.

First single ‘Daysleeper’ is the closest thing to a traditional R.E.M. song here. The rest leans more toward Radiohead territory, with a little Beach Boys and Leonard Cohen thrown in for good measure. And while most of the songs on Up wouldn’t rank near the top of R.E.M.’s catalog, the album as a whole has a flow and consistency that some of their more celebrated work lacks.

‘You’re In the Air’ is a fine example of the sort of thing R.E.M. did very well on Up. It’s a strange melange of cold and warm, of mechanical instrumentation and big emotion. It’s R.E.M. doing Radiohead, a band they toured with extensively in the years leading up to Up‘s recording.

I believe a lot of fans, as well as casual listeners, jumped off of R.E.M.’s bandwagon following New Adventures in Hi-Fi. Up is Exhibit A demonstrating why they should have stayed.

You wanted a challenge
That’s calling you higher
I landed on my feet crawling
I remember standing alone trying to forget you idling
I hate to admit that that’s my reference point
But there it is
You say you want me

I’m what you found
I’m upside down
You’re in the air
You’re in the air
And I am breathing

Brighten the stars
The weather is lifting
The heavens love
A love like this
It’s pulling you higher
Twist it and turn this around
It lights from within
It dribbles your chin
Now brings a smile
I’m lost again
I’m lost again

I’m what you found
I’m upside down
You’re in the air
You’re in the air
And I am breathing

I want the stars to know they’ve won
If only to beguile
The sky has opened up again
In heaven reconciled
I want you naked
I want you wild
I want the stars to know they win
Give me that smile
Just give it me
Just turn it on
I’m lost again

I’m what you found
I’m upside down
You’re in the air
I’m what you found
I’m upside down
You’re in the air
I’m what you found
I’m upside down
You’re everywhere
You’re in the air
And I am breathing you

2 thoughts on “Song of the Day #688: ‘You’re In the Air’ – R.E.M.

  1. Amy says:

    Lame joke aside (and who among us wouldn’t have gone for the same punchline? I know I would have), this post is awfully provocative, bordering on profound. I’d never thought much about how challenging it must have been for them to make this album after losing a “member of the family.” The last Dave Matthews album confronts head on that question, but R.E.M.’s album came not after a death but after a willful departure. I guess it’s more like a parent moving out than dying. Still, the end result is that the home is broken (to push your family metaphor as far as it will let me).

    So… what do you do? You manage without him. I like the song you’ve posted today very much, but I can’t say I have any familiarity with it. We own this album, but I can’t remember the last time I played it (maybe the weeks after I bought it?)

    However, I don’t think I’m one of those fans who jumped off of R.E.M.’s bandwagon; I stayed on the bandwagon – I just kept playing the same albums up there. I’m sure these next few days will serve as a sharp reprimand of my tendency to grab the same three albums every time I’m in the mood for R.E.M. Thank you in advance for the scolding.

  2. Dana says:

    I remember playing this album when it came out and thinking it had a lot of good stuff on it, including today’s SOTD. I’m not suggesting it rises nearly to the level of an Automatic for the People (that’s Drive to Alex if she is confused by my reference:)), but it’s still good stuff.

    I too am curious how REM’s sound progressed after this. So I will stay tuned….

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