Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
I was living in Burlington Vermont when Kid A was released. My roommates and friends were really into Ween, Phish, and The Grateful Dead, apart from one guy who successfully got me into The Beautiful South. I was in the midst of my own Terrible Music Phase, as I found myself trying to find something salvagable in bands like Creed and Days Of The New, while also making time for albums I still listen to, such as Moby's Play and The O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack. Both of those albums were approaching on the horizon, but this was the first album I purchased in VT that I actually enjoyed (I'm looking at you Dave Matthews Band Busted Stuff, you turning point in my ability to listen to that band.)
I kept hearing "new sound", "spacey", "spare", and "departure" used to describe Kid A, and they were all accurate terms. I was still in Vermont, and still musically bored when Amnesiac came out, and, like many Radiohead fans, I thought "Between these two albums, there is one Really Good Album. I wish they'd just released that instead of these two perfectly fine albums."
I think most fans with time on their hands and access to cassette players / blank CDs / Spotify / audio editors, probably have their version of Kid Amnesiac. Here's mine.
Pretty much every song on both Kid A and Amnesiac would qualify as Songs Adam Was Likely To Use To Start An Album. They've all got slow builds with a focus on unusual beats. Their vocals and lyrics mostly build out of despair to something else. I particularly enjoy the Think about the good times and never look back aspect of I Might Be Wrong, as I think it puts the previous two albums in the rearview, and allows you to acknowledge their existence while realizing you are headed down the waterfall into a completely new story.
The rock and roll myth around How To Disappear Completely involves a younger Thom Yorke, on tour with REM, asked how to handle rock stardom, and Stipe suggested shutting out the entire world and making I'm not here / this isn't happening his mantra. This song was the end result of that conversation, which Stipe heard, and then wrote "Disappear". This song continues Kid Amnesiac's narrative of a person completely shedding their past in an attempt to find a new person in their future. It's a slow, orchestral process. If you fuck to it, you must both be really sad.
Pakt Like A Sardine In A Crushd Tin Box is a relaxed percussionist's dream song, with looping and autotune, and a narrator asserting I'm a reasonable man / get off my case so many times that he can't possibly be seen as reasonable. It reminds me of time spent on my grandfather's boat when I was younger (mainly because of the oceanic percussion) and trying to assert my independence from my unreasonable grandfather by being an unreasonable pre-teen.
A roommate of mine, in 2006, lamented that Kid A and Amnesiac were both written by Yorke putting a bunch of lyrics in a hat, and drawing them at random while playing weird atmospheric rock and strange vocals in the background. He was mostly angry because he declared "Bjork did it first AND BETTER!" First, certainly. But the lyrics on this album are actually great, and definitely not drawn at random. You And Whose Army? is a haunting (like every song on this album) indictment of 21st century politicians without being overt or didactic. I also enjoy that around the time of these albums, Yorke was working with Bjork (say that ten times fast) on Dancer In The Dark.
Kid A logically spirals out of the previous track with a late 20th century Tom Waits feel (instrumentally, not vocally). I wouldn't know the lyrics if I hadn't looked them up. They're very much secondary to the feeling of this song as art rock, but they do line up with the earlier mentioned shedding of one's past, as the future Pied Pipers your ass into the unknown.
The musical smorgasbord that is the beginning of The National Anthem, and the almost unnecessary lyrical repetion of It's holding on because it reminds me of how desperately the nations where i live, and where Yorke is from are currently run by dying old men, desperately holding to a past that no longer exists. I can't wait for them and their pasts to be fully fucken dead.
The people we used to be can not ever come back So Knives Out / cut him up. Yea, Radiohead suggests you eat the person you used to be. Don't swallow them whole. Prepare them as a delicious meal. And slowly eat yourself to become someone new. Don't write down the recipe.
Pyramid Song is a piano ballad. The most straight forward sounding song on the album, and also the one recorded closest to the completion of Ok Computer tour. It also feels the most like it could have been from Moon Shaped Pool. It has the late jarring anti-pop pop-rock feel of 2010s Radiohead, despite having been written very early in the late 90s.
Idioteque is my, and I think most people's, favorite track from this era of Radiohead. This song actually was created by cutting up various lyrics and putting them in a hat. I assumed this was my ex-roommate's fantasy, but while he was incorrect in thinking the entire album was composed in this fashion, it turns out that this track totally was.
There are two versions of The Morning Bell. One from Kid A, one from Amnesiac. I'm using the Kid A version that climbs out of "Idioteque". It's another cut-up song where Yorke takes a bunch of cliches and re-assembled them by random draw. It feels like someone surrendering to the chaos of their mundane life while still dreaming of something better, but not imagining it's attainable.
If there's a 22st century theme song for having a mental breakdown, it's Everything In Its Right Place. The feeling of chaos continues, while a building but never cracking voice tries to figure out what's happening around them. It's the sound of a cocoon being drawn around someone who can't take any more of their current life.
This album closes with a funeral song. Specifically, a New Orleans funeral. Goodbye, old self. Everyone sees who used to be, as you lived your Life In A Glass House. The song feels like no other Radiohead song. Of course I'd like to sit and chew the fat / but someone's listening in, and it's time to move on to something entirely new.
Most people experience The Most Important Year Of Their Lives between ages 16 and 22. They fall in love with someone. They discover a hobby. There's a devastating death in their family or circle of friends. They frequently trace their life's path to an event that falls in this age range.
For me, the end of 1997 until the summer of 1998 was my Most Important Year. So, the music that came out at that time looms larger than any other year. Pretty much any rock album that kept me from having to listen to Boy Bands caught my attention. I listened to The Verve's Urban Hymns and Semisonic's Feeling Strangely Fine ad nauseum. My favorite Madonna album, Ray Of Light exceeded all my expectations for a pop album. And, of course, Ok Computer hit.
I was working in a record store at the time, so I had early access to this album, as well as REM's New Adventures In Hi-Fi, Pearl Jam's No Code, Soundgarden's Down On The Upside, and The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. All of these were albums I was super excited for, and came to love (New Adventures In Hi-Fi took me a few years to appreciate, but the rest I loved instantly).
Putting together an improved version of Ok Computer was super easy for me. I've reordered the album several times over the year for various reasons.
In 2009ish, a DJ friend told me about the 0110 album theory that Ok Computer and In Rainbows, which was released ten years later, are complementary albums, where you're meant to alternate tracks to create a Super Radiohead album. While I do enjoy that Super Album, it requires no work from me, and exists on several other websites, you can totally check them out. I don't enjoy all of the In Rainbows tracks, so I've pooled them with Hail To The Thief to make that a rounder album. OK Computer doesn't need the fleshing out. I also haven't added any B-sides or any of the songs that have accompanied OKNOTOK. While rearranged, this is still Very Much just the original album. I just don't think it needs the upgrade the way their other albums do.
I also prefer it isolated from In Rainbows because I see this as complementary to The Bends, a manic sounding album about depression, with this being a depressing sounding album about being manic.
I imagine Lucky rising out of "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" from The Bends. This character spent that whole album trying to figure out some way that his despair isn't his own fault, but ends up giving up. But out of his acceptance (not resolve, nothing was resolved with the last album, but there does seem to be a bit of acceptance), comes the feeling of being pulled out of the aircrash and the lake and becoming likable to the world around him.
Electioneering has the newly reborn character determined to move forwards in the proper way in order to earn your trust. Mr. Yorke, and Mr.s Greenwood, Selway, and O'Brien, you have my vote. I'll take depressed dudes worried about technology over an over-confident blowhard too stupid to tie his shoes or shut his mouth any day of the century. But something is definitely off about their smile.
In Climbing Up The Walls, a nearly falsetto monotone start that builds into the frantic primal growl that The Bends never gave us. We are being watched by everyone all the time. Watched by technology every time we leave the house. It's tough to keep the smiling facade without seeming ... oh, this isn't contentedness or acceptance at all. This is mania.
Karma Police spins my favorite part of The Bends on its head. The protagonist is having a full-on breakdown and desperately searching for someone besides himself to blame. At the end of the track, he's apologizing for having "lost himself" and is pretty sure he has everything under control.
Airbag suggests otherwise. It's a false moment of control and safety. A belief in immortality that isn't supported by reason. If the most recent breakdown didn't kill him, then surely nothing can.
The original album's fade from "Airbag" into Paranoid Android really shouldn't be fucked with. It's a great transition from the repetitive prattling about being immortal to the high cry/wine vocals begging the world around him to shut up. In the background, Marvin The Paranoid Android from Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide quintology keeps introducing himself. The operatic changes over the course of the song are super reminiscent of Queen, although Thom Yorke is no Freddy Mercury (who is?). I have probably spent over a full day of my life listening to this song. Maybe more.
I think this is a solid break in the narrative. And it's about at the halfway point for a two-sided album.
Apart from Marvin The Paranoid Android, the only guest artist on the album is Fred, the voice of 1990s Macintosh's SimpleText program, who does lead vocals for Fitter, Happier, a depressing cycle of 20th century self-help sloganeering. It's a great restart to the story. I envision the narrator having come out of some sort of rehab between Side A and Side B and this is the only glimpse we ever get of their time being treated.
The Tourist is the closing track on the original album, and I understand why. It's quiet, and feels more isolated from the chaos of the rest of the album. But, like The Bends, I don't see this album as being resolvable. I prefer this song as a moment of introspection where, as he exits the rehabilitation center, the singer freezes while the world speeds around him. He shouts Idiot / Slow down to no avail. It's the bipolar moment where someone who's been manic, realizes that they need to contain themself (sometimes I get overcharged / that's when you see sparks) to start processing their environment.
This feeling continues into No Surprises as Yorke does a lower version of the near-monotone from the "Climbing Up The Walls". But this time, instead of building up to a growl, he's winding down to calm. This is my final bellyache, Yorke declares. And that's true of this version of the album. There are two tracks to go, and they take us to a different place.
Even when you've been successful, be it as a rock band, or a person battling depression, it's sometimes tough not to wonder how other people work, what makes them so cruel, or happy, or aloof, or unhinged, whatever attribute they have that weirds you out. Subterranean Alien Homesick Blues is a perfect late twentieth century reimagining of Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" where, instead of being able to talk to your counter-culture friends about how wrong the world feels, you have to keep it locked up inside or else risk that they'd shut you away.
Of course not trusting your friends and peers to enough to share your feelings would be a Let Down. But you stay hanging out with them because you fear there aren't any other options for you. The world moves around you while you feel hysterical and useless.
Like "Paranoid Android", Exit Music (For A Film) is one of my favorite Radiohead songs. Yorke says it's the Romeo & Juliet story he wanted. The night after the two teens consummate their relationship they decide "Fuck it. Our families are terrible. Let's get out of here." I love that idea. For the narrative of this album, though, there is no love interest, so I view it as the narrator's mania speaking to his depression, and figuring out how to get himself together enough to leave this (house / relationship / town / planet) where he doesn't feel comfortable or supported. The way the song jangles out is actually a perfect blend into "The Bends", the first track from the reimagined The Bends making for a terribly cyclical storyline about being bipolar.
The Chicago Tribune gave The Bends, which was on my employee pick wall for the duration of my time as employee and then assistant manager at a record store on Cape Cod, one star. Instead of linking to the archived review, here is the complete text:
Along with Beck's "Loser," Radiohead's smash single "Creep" made up a sort of low self-esteem hit parade for disaffected pop fans. Lacking that dubious appeal, there's little on the British group's second record to suggest they'll be more than one-hit wonders. Thom Yorke's ethereal vocals and woebegone melodies are tuneful enough, but too self-absorbed to be catchy. The sweeping, extravagant choruses and Seattle wanna-be guitar parts are similarly heavy-handed and excessive: the clumsy, unpleasant guitar scorch of "Bones" and "My Iron Lung" are particularly cringe-inducing. If the band had dispensed with the grandiose dramatic effects, songs like "The Bends" and "Black Star" could have been catchy little rockers. Instead, Radiohead's overwrought, pompous music makes them sound like alternative rock`s answer to the Moody Blues.
Apart from the not-stradamus prediction that the band would be a One Hit Wonder, much of the rest of this reviewers critique have followed the band through the last nearly thirty years of their highly successful rock career. Thom Yorke's voice is weird. They keep changing how they play their instruments. Their effects are too grandoise. They pick their lyrics out of a hat. Bjork did it better. REM did it better. Pink Floyd did it better. Ya da. Ya da. Ya da.
I've been on board with the band since ... not Day One ... but since I was a drunk teenager at a work party, rocking out to "Creep" with people I mistakenly thought were cooler than me. A year later, they'd be back to the Black Crowes and Dave Matthews Band (and I'd be with them for a while). In two years, though, we'd be completely split apart as they went full Grateful Dead / Phish / Ween, and I decided to stick with Pearl Jam / Radiohead / and U2. We shan't speak of our regrettable Jimmy Buffet concert. AHEM. We shan't.
Ok. Maybe eventually. But not now.
I love the art rock mystique of Radiohead. The Bends was one of the first reimagined albums I made. And when I started this project, I intended to present their discography right after Prince's. Alas, my Radiohead discography had suffered from sort of iPod malfunction. I had made a Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame playlist for work, and instead of copying the selected songs to the playlist, it deleted them. Sure, I still had all the tracks on a backup harddrive, but I really loved the flow of the reimagined playlists I'd already made, and didn't really want to go to the effort of remaking them.
While putting together a Spacehog and a Soul Asylum reimagining, I noticed that, while my backup drive didn't have the individual tracks from my Radiohead discography, they had each album as one whole file, so I didn't need to restructure the albums, I just needed to set the starting and stopping point of each track and re-export them. And that's a breeze!
Unlike much of my reimaginings, there isn't Too Much combining of albums. There's some, but it's not as excessive as Prince's, REM's, or The Weeknd's. The Bends holds on to each track, but recontextualizes them around three tracks from Pablo Honey that I couldn't bear to lose. They are, in my opinion, the only three tracks from Pablo Honey worth listening to. And even one of the ones I saved is of dubious quality. Phase One of Radiohead was kind of a British wannabe-Nirvana or REM. But, unlike, say Bush, they grew. I don't think The Bends sounds in any way derivative of their contemporaries the way Pablo Honey did.
While this is no longer even my favorite Radiohead album (Team Ok Computer 4 Life), it's still the album that made me fall in love with the band. And I think it aged better than many of the other bands I grew up listening to.
Much like the way they structured their middle albums, this version of The Bends is a sonic journey. Songs rise out of each other, not at the radio fade out level, but as though this album was two complementary tracks. Relentless.
The album starts in a fairly Beatlesque fashion with a tinkling, talking, hint at classical parade music beginning. Then the driving guitars of The Bends kicks in. Where do we go from here? / The words are coming out all weird / Where are you now when I need you? seem like a good opening to Thom Yorke's writing as anything else from the album. Unlike some of the reimagined albums, which features dudes being creepy about women not being into them. Thom Yorke is pretty up front that he's the weirdo, and he's going to work on himself instead of trying to figure out anybody else.
Where are you now when I need you? repeats as a wind gathers beneath the vocals and gives way to Planet Telex, which switches the narrative point from first to second person, but is about being powerless in pretty much every situation. Everything is broken / Everyone is broken. The guitars swell into wave patterns as Yorke asks Why can't you forget?
The Gallagher Brothers (aka Oasis) totally hate Radiohead. Not, like, in their feud with Blur sort of way, more in a complete dismissal of Radiohead's talent. Which amuses me, because Anyone Can Play Guitar could have easily come off of Definitely Maybe. The guitars are fuzzier. And while the vocals are too high for either Gallagher brother, the weird nasal grind of I want to be Jim Morrison is totally in their wheelhouse. Except, obviously, they both wanted to be Lennon and McCartney. Like, Real Bad. Like, they are still Not Over It. Their continued belief that they're the best musicians of their generation was a pretty bad look in their twenties is a really gross condemnation of who they are now that they're in their fifties and are mostly remembered as The Band That Wrote One Of The Most Annoying Songs Of All Time ("Wonderwall").
There was a show during the early days of the cable TV station FX, where the future host of Survivor, and Mr. Nancy from American Gods talked about new music. It was a fantastic show. It's where I learned of bands like James, The Dust Brothers, and Daft Punk. And while I already knew about Radiohead, it's where I first saw the video for Fake Plastic Trees, and knew I had to own the album. It starts with acoustic guitar that, indeed, anyone can play, and expands the feeling of "I'm terrible at everything" to acknowledge "But everything around me is fake as hell, so why do I care so much?" which neither the song nor the album ever try and resolve.
The music seems like it's getting more upbeat with High And Dry but the vocals let you know that any attempt to appear happy means you're turning into something you are not. You are as much fake plastic as the trees from the last song. It's the kind of message 17 year old Adam could rock out to, even if the midtemponess doesn't leave much rocking space.
Bones is coiled and waiting to strike at the end of "High And Dry". It's got the echoey Monster / New Adventures In Hi-Fi guitar sound that REM adopted at the same time. But it allows itself to get louder than "What's The Frequency Kenneth", even burying Yorke's vocals in the chorus. I confess that it was years before I realized he was singing When you've got to feel it in your bones. I had no clue what the chorus was.
This album has been super heavy on despair. So they love me like I was their brother / they protect me / make me happy feels like things are going to go in a ... oh, it's not real it's just a (Nice Dream) that threatens to launch into a primal scream, but Yorke cuts off his vocals, and lets the guitars scream for him.
You do it to yourself you do / and that's what really hurts. Nobody on this album is ever blamed for Yorke's loneliness, anger, or sadness. You might think this song is him calling out someone else for martyrdom, but in the context of the album, he's clearly addressing himself in second person. Just was one of many songs that led the more vulturish members of the 1990s rock press to predict that Yorke would be another rock and roll suicide.
My Iron Lung ponders We're too young to fall asleep / Too cynical to speak / We are losing it, can't you tell? This is the end of the first of the two tracks, it's at the 2/3rd point as opposed to the halfway point, but Radiohead has always had a specific structural pattern that favors utilitarianism over tradition.
Stop Whispering is the second of the Pablo Honey songs. The production quality is noticabely poorer, but I love the basic chorus and how the guitars sounded before the band figured out how to divvy up the guitar parts so it sounded more symphonic and less Wall Of Sound. I couldn't listen to a whole album of songs like this, but hearing one placed in the midst of the superior The Bends tracks works for me. I also enjoy that the chorus is Stop whispering / Start shouting which is sort of the anti-Radiohead career trajectory. They definitely progress from shouting to whispering.
My go-to karaoke song of the late 90s / early 2000s is the final Pablo Honey song. Creep is another unrequited love song where Yorke acknowledges that he's the problem in the dynamic, and gets all sad about it. There have been some insanely good covers of this track on singing competition reality shows. Some explore it as a haunting ballad, some turn it into a screamo anthem. I like that this song works in many different forms. I also enjoy that every karaoke machine I ever looked at during the chorus had the lyrics as I'm a creep / I'm a widow. No, dude. I'm a weirdo. It's pretty obvious from the context of the song, even if it's in a British accent. Though putting the entire album in the perspective of Yorke recovering from a dead spouse does kinda work.
Unlike "Anyone Can Play Guitar" and "Stop Whispering", "Creep" is on-par, production-wise with The Bends, which makes it easy for it slide into Bullet Proof (I Wish I Was), the most ballady track on the album.
If there is a filler song on the album, I think it's Sulk. I still enjoy listening to the song, particularly the transition from chorus to guitar solo around the 2:30 mark. But I had no idea what any of the lyrics were for the first decade or so that I listened to the album. Perhaps longer. I like that it ends with You'll never change, because, again, I enjoy this album for its refusal to ever resolve its depression.
Blackstar comes right out there and tells you to blame your problems on technology, astrology, whatever you want that isn't another person. Every time they're reminded of the person they love, they have a panic attack, and they're searching for someone to blame for this feeling other than themself, so rather than blaming the person they can't have, they're going to list a bunch of possibilities that aren't other people with feelings.
The album closes with Street Spirit (Fade Out), a precursor to the next album's "Exit Music (For A Film). Any set of videos or throughline for this album would be too depressing to write about. Like a Lars Von Trier film. You could appreciate it once, but having the emotional energy to rewatch it would make you superhuman. Having no context, or viewing the album as a set of connected vignettes make it much more digestible and redigestable. And even though the song, as the title suggests, fades out, it does feel like something should be coming next. But I enjoy that there's nothing there but silence.
Revisiting Automatic For The People was kind of a downer for me. Dreary Music For Teenagers didn't age as well as I'd hoped. And while I still enjoy several of the songs from that album, I don't imagine I'll listen to that album as a whole very much, unless I'm looking for inoffensive background music.
On the other hand, I love this version of New Adventures In Hi-Fi. This is a combination of the two albums that followed Automatic For The People: Monster and New Adventures In Hi-Fi. REM's return to rock. Much harder than their previous three albums, and more interesting than any of their 90s and 21st century output, this album ditched the mandolins and whine for echoey guitars and mellotrons. The lyrics were more in-line with their earlier material, and Stipe appeared to be having more vocal fun.
The reason the two albums that I combined for this Reimagined Album work so well is because the original New Adventures In Hi-Fi is actually just a series of songs recorded during the sound checks for the tour they did in support of Monster. Of course they're of the same ilk.
These are also the two albums that I once owned the fancy hardcover collectors editions of. The first I bought in a Greenfield music store when I was in high school, the second I ordered from behind the counter when I worked at a music store on Cape Cod.
I'd planned on posting this a day earlier, but there was a static noise near the middle of "Bittersweet Me", and when I went to fix it, it somehow added about half a second of silence to every track from 'What's The Frequency Kenneth?" all the way to the end, so I had to de-glitch this starting with "Wake Up Bomb". It was worth it, even if it took over an hour to remove clicks caused by a >1 second sound issue.
To balance out the Vaseline-lensed balladry of Automatic For The People, REM released Monster, a fuzzy guitar album that I bought the day it was released. It's fine. Their following album, New Adventures In Hi-Fi was a better blend of rock and the new REM sound. I got an early copy of it, as I was working in a record store when it came out. This reimagined New Adventures In Hi-Fi is meant to honor the band's desire to shake off the aura of Automatic For The People, so it starts with Departure a more modern rock guitar sound but a more old-school Stipe vocal. If this version of this album, instead out of Out Of Time had come out after Green, I think REM would have been an even bigger band in the 90s.
Crush With Eyeliner has Lou Reed's cigarette ashy bootprints all over it. I love the echoey guitar riff, and the effect that makes it sound like Stipe is singing through a megaphone (which was an absolute cliche in the 90s). I also really love the line She's a sad tomato.
I just really love the piano and whistle combination on How The West Was Won And Where It Got Us. The vocals are also good, but, apart from the chorus, I've never really listened to the lyrics.
I also can't say that I love Jesus but I do really enjoy New Test Leper. It's one of my favorite musical contrapuntals. It's a weird little song about talk shows and their hosts' relationships with their guests and reality. What a sad parade.
Like Until The End Of The World and Singles, The Coneheads is a 1990s soundtrack that I much prefer to the movie it came from. There was a great Red Hot Chili Peppers song ("Soul To Squeeze"), and It's A Free World Baby, which, while recorded during the Out Of Time sessions, fits much better in this echoey guitar album.
Bang And Blame seems like the updated version of "It's A Free World Baby" based purely on the guitars. Is it about a closeted celebrity Stipe used to fling with? Almost definitely. But it's not my thing / so let it go.
Electrolite is an almost Radioheadish composed country piano track. (Radiohead has, in fact, covered the song. And the two bands have toured together and heavily influenced one another.) Its spare but reference-heavy lyrics have Yorke's writing flair, and the background vocals sound Yorkeish.
In contrast with Bono's not very good cover of "Hallelujah", we come to our second Leonard Cohen song in these reimagined discographies. This time it's the wonderful First We Take Manhattan. I heard it as the B-side to "Drive", and was excited to see it pop up on a Leonard Cohen tribute album. This is my second favorite Cohen cover of all-time. And I have heard several
albums' worth of Cohen covers in my day.
Tongue was my favorite song on the album when I went home and listened to Monster. This is not at all proportionate with my love of the song's subject, cunnilingus. This is also the most falsetto song in any of the reimagined discographies since Prince. It's a solid and impressive falsetto performance. But it ain't Prince.
I look good in a glass hat but the rest of the fashion mentioned in Wake Up Bomb don't really suit me. This is another return to old school REM with Stipe's vocals being reasonably low tenor and inconsistent, which suits the song just fine.
The first single from this album was meant to let you know that this was Not Automatic For The People. I don't think it will be controversial to say that What's The Frequency Kenneth?, this echoey guitar song is the finest piece of music to ever come out of a disturbed person's brutal attack of television journalist Dan Rather.
Things wind down near the end of "What's The Frequency" and give way to Bittersweet Me which moves across the room with a heart full of gloom. There's a cool mellotron in the background the plays off the *checks notes*, echoey guitar.
A countdown brings us to the Southern American/Spaghetti-Western Italian Zither. A nice, brief instrumental, akin to "New Orleans Instrumental No. 1" but not as sleepy. The guitar here is more surfey than echoey, making this the R.E.M. song most likely to end up in a Tarantino film.
Crunching out of the end of "Zither" is E-Bow The Letter, a haunting song that features Patti Smith on background vocals. This came out in the same general time as Metallica's "The Memory Remains", which featured Marianne Faithful on background vocals. Though no one involved in any of these projects sounds like anyone else, I often see "The Memory Remains" video in my head, whenever I hear "E-Bow The Letter".
For an album that started with "Departure", it's taken us a long time to get to Leave, the final song on the album.
One of the major subjective biases of this project where I recreate different artists' catalogue is When I First Heard A Particular Album. Sure, now that I'm in my 40s, I can acknowledge that an album I loved when I was sixteen might be garbage. But I might include more songs on an album that hit when I was more musically vulnerable to schmaltz.
Which is mostly to say that I didn't edit out "Everybody Hurts" from this album, even though it's one of the schmaltziest, over-the-top ballads from the nineties, a decade made of extravagant, over-the-top ballads. I don't even particularly like the song, and it was never one of my favorite tracks on this, one of my Favorite Albums Ever the year it came out. I was a teacher's aid to fourth graders when this song came out, and even They made fun of the lyrical delivery on the song. But it has enough legs to be the go-to-tune for ironic sadness, so I'm going to let it live here, in the same discography where I cut "Shiny, Happy People" for, essentially, having precisely contrary lyrics to "Everybody Hurts" but ultimately having the same meaning.
If there's an orchestral intro, I pretty much have to use that as a starting point, even if its just musicians tuning up, hence Nightswimming is the first track. I once started singing this song in the most on-the-nose way (although we were not naked) by singing it while swimming in Lawrence Pond with a few fellow camp counselors until one of them dunked me under water. I resurfaced a few feet away, and continued singing. This is just one of the reasons my coworkers probably hated me. The combination of the piano and the strings on this song are such a departure from previous albums that it's a good Oh Hey We've Got A New Sound announcement. Even if that new sound is a home on adult contemporary soft rock radio.
Try Not To Breathe does not rock any harder. In fact, this was one of the few albums listened to in high school that my parents liked. Which might be why almost no one younger than my age group thinks of REM as a rock band. This particular song comes off as an endearing high school musical number by a kid who can't sing particularly well but can sort of hold a tune. I think the slight background vocals are the best part of the song, which is pretty rare for an REM track.
(Part of the reason I spent nearly a week before posting this is because I didn't like the transition between these two tracks, and spent hours trying to fix it. I eventually worked it out by cutting some of the intro from "Sidewinder".)
Feel free to hate The Sidewinder Sleeps On Its Back with its unnecessary falsetto and it's unironic mentioning of payphones, which didn't know they were soon to be on the endangered species list. A song about being hung up on by someone being annoyed at a late night phone call is frivolous in a way that doesn't seem as cloying as some other silly REM songs. A friend of mine mistook the lyrics only to wake her up as only Terwilliker, the evil piano teacher from The 5000 Fingers Of Doctor T, a lovely live action movie by Dr. Seuss. I'm grateful for his mishearing, as without it, I might never seen that wonderful little film.
Drive was the original single, and lead-off song of the real version of Automatic For The People, and it's easy to see why. It's one of the only songs from the album that I could imagine being on Green or Out Of Time. It's not nearly as good a song as I imagined as a teenager. I don't have much nostalgia for this monotone dirge. While this was definitely my favorite R.E.M. album growing up, it's probably not even in the top five ... maybe ten looking at it through the lens of their whole discography. None of it is bad, it's all just sort of ... deliberately lifeless in a way that makes me think of these songs being used in Made For TV Movie.
I much prefer the cello of Automatic For The People to the mandolins of Out Of Time, but Sweetness Follows is still more of a song to put on in the background if you're trying to make out with someone in 1994 than a rock song. But, bad news, once you put on this song, they are totally not making out with you.
The only slightly rock song on the whole album is Ignoreland. It sounds like it could come out of their IRS years, meaning it's pretty poorly recorded, and difficult to understand Stipe's lyrics. Said lyrics are much more overtly political than other songs from this album or the two that envelope it. And, yet, due to the fact that it sounds like he recorded it through a dying amp, you can't really tell what he's singing about.
Here is the song by REM that gets the most hate. And while, again, Everybody Hurts is not my least favorite song, it is definitely the song that your aunt Nicole cried along to when her first and second and third boyfriends broke up with her. And anyone who knew she did this rolled their eyes and never mentioned it to her. But definitely told the person she broke up with. Nicole's friends were jerks.
New Orleans Instrumental No. 1 is like listening to a river float by your window while you're moderately tipsy.
I don't advocate ever playing Twister or Risk, and I don't believe in Heaven, so Man On The Moon isn't my theme song. The best thing to come out of this song, for me, personally, was that I learned who Andy Kaufman was. If only there had been a more accessible internet at the time, I could have watched videos of him to get a better understanding that, despite some of his epic contributions to pop culture, I probably would have found him more annoying than interesting. I have not seen the Jim Carrey movie about him that shares a title with this song. Sanity willing, I will die without ever having seen it.
I bought the Until The End Of The World soundtrack because it had U2 on it, and I was just falling down the rabbit hole of U2 fandom that led them to being the first Reimagined Discography that I posted. I love the album. It's how I first came to know of Neneh Cherry, Nick Cave, and Crime And The City Solution, and got a better understanding of KD Lang, Lou Reed, and The Talking Heads. Fretless is from that soundtrack, and it's a shame that it didn't make the real version of Automatic For The People as it has the right feel for the album, but has better lyrics.
The Lion Sleeps Tonite is such a great B-side cover. It's so on-the-nose and Muppety. I'm pretty sure I used this song to torture my roommate, later neighbor, in high school. Both by playing it, and occasionally singing along with it.
If you like Find The River, do yourself a favor and check out the song in its original form, "Stay" by Lisa Loeb. It's peppier, and wears more stylish glasses. This is still a solid song, even though it was the band's Worn Out Welcome single, being the first single since their Green album that they released that didn't make the Billboard Top 40.
I'd never really listened to the lyrics to Monty Got A Real Deal, and just took a friend's word for it when he mentioned that it was probably about Monty Hall. It's ... uhhh ... not. This is actually a cool little song about sexuality in the mid-twentieth century written very poetically, but it's neither a scorcher nor a catchy torch song, so it's easy to overlook it.
Star Me Kitten is very much the outro to a movie soundtrack, and works as a cool closer here.