Song of the Day #689: ‘I’ve Been High’ – R.E.M.

Three years after Up, R.E.M. released their second album as a trio, 2001’s Reveal. After the sonic experimentation of Up, Reveal was more in the vein of a “normal” R.E.M. album, sharing a style and tone closest to their work on Automatic For the People.

For me, this is one of the trickiest albums in the band’s catalog. While I enjoy most of the songs quite a bit, the album itself has never quite gelled. I don’t know if it’s the lack of Bill Berry, but Reveal has always seemed off in some way.

To be fair, that could just be a product of the weight of expectations that begins to burden all great artists after decades of great work. When each new release is measured against a series of immortal classics, how can it possibly measure up?

And to be fair, Reveal has its share of wonderful moments. First single ‘Imitation of Life’ would have fit easily alongside the best of Out of Time. ‘Disappear’ calls to mind ‘Try Not to Breathe’ from Automatic For the People. ‘All the Way to Reno (You’re Gonna Be a Star)’ feels like a cousin to ‘Man On the Moon.’

And maybe that’s the problem. Reveal is something of a greatest hits record of R.E.M. styles rather than a unified album in its own right. It’s as if they tried to hard to capture their old magic that they wound up just covering themselves.

With that in mind, it makes sense that one of my favorite tracks on the album — today’s Song of the Day, ‘I’ve Been High’ — is one that doesn’t sound exactly like anything the band has done before. It’s a gentle ballad with electronica flourishes and one of the sweetest melodies R.E.M. has ever come up with.

Have you seen?
Have not, will travel
Have I missed the big reveal?

Do my eyes,
Do my eyes seem empty?
I’ve forgotten how this feels.

I’ve been high
I’ve climbed so high
But life sometimes
It washes over me.

Have you been?
Have done, will travel
I fell down on my knees

Was I wrong?
I don’t know, don’t answer.
I just needed to believe.

I’ve been high
I’ve climbed so high
But life sometimes
It washes over me.

So
I dive into a pool so cool and deep that if I sink I sink
And when I swim I fly, so high.

What I want
What I really want is
Just to live my life on high.

And I know
I know you want the same
I can see it in your eyes.

I’ve been high
I’ve climbed so high
But life sometimes
It washes over me.

Washes over me
Close my eyes so I can see
Make my make-believe, believe
In me.

3 thoughts on “Song of the Day #689: ‘I’ve Been High’ – R.E.M.

  1. Amy says:

    The thing that strikes me most about this song is that it doesn’t sound like Michael Stipe. I mean, it’s him, obviously. But it doesn’t “sound” like him. In a more elemental sense. It’s a lovely, melancholy sort of song. I’m intrigued by how he is again using swimming as a metaphor for… what?

    When he wonders, “have I missed the big reveal?” – I wonder, too. Have I? What is the big reveal in the song? Is he talking to another person? his fans? to God?

    Let’s analyze!

  2. Dana says:

    I kinda see Amy’s point–this song probably could have been done by anyone–not that it’s a bad song, just doesn’t seem to have that extra spark, lyrically or musically, to keep up with the best this band has done.

    Still, if the album as a whole hearkens back to the old style, I need to check it out. Even watered down REM is better than what most others produce.

  3. Flor says:

    My problem with Reveal is, I think, that it’s so front loaded. I absolutely love the first 4 songs and after that the rest being just good feels like a let down (exception is of course Imititation of Life which is wonderful even though it feels a bit out of place here).

    Funnily enough, I think I’ve Been High would have been even better had it sounded more like a ‘traditional’ R.E.M. song. It’s a beautiful melody at heart but the beeps and boops feel a bit unnecessary. Then again, I don’t hear Reno-Man on the Moon at all, so maybe I’m just a conventionalist.

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