Electron Blue

March 27, 2007

Whenever I try to give a simple answer to skeptical people who can’t understand why I enjoy so much late period R.E.M., one of the points I try to hit is that they’ve nailed a really specific type of song in the late ’90s and early ’00s. I don’t want to give it a cute name, but it’s essentially the “pep talk” song, in which Michael Stipe attempts to console some confused younger person, and tries to get them excited about their future. Some people might find this theme to be very sappy, but it’s something I quite love, and frankly, I think we all need more optimistic songs about the future.

Stipe’s words in “Electron Blue” bounce back and forth between straight-forward sentiment (“adventure’s laid it’s claim on you / it’s all you want to do”) and vague language (I’m not exactly clear on the literal meaning of “you run electron blue”), but the gist of it is easy enough to grasp. It seems to be about how being bold enough to dive headlong into the future can be an incredible high, but it can also become this thing that keeps a person constantly looking to the horizon and at a slight remove from their surroundings. It’s an empathetic lament — part of this person’s beauty is their sense of adventure, but there’s the sad realization that no matter what, you’re just a footnote in their wild life.

“Electron Blue” is pretty and mildly weird, and basically sounds like Peter Cetera in outer space. I realize that description might horrify a lot of people, but I find that aspect of the song rather charming. Though some other songs from Around The Sun can be a bit embarrassing, “Electron Blue” embraces its corniness in way that seems brave and inspiring, and ultimately, its oddball blend of assertive balladry, chiming piano, and washes of pastel synth tones doesn’t sound much like any other song that I’ve ever heard.

21 Responses to “Electron Blue”

  1. XtianDC Says:

    I’m especially enjoying this project for the fact that you will be undisciminating towards the later period songs. It frustrates me that post-Buck REM is essentially dismissed out of hand and across the board. There’s some really good moments to be found in the past few albums (for my money “Up” is a top five REM record even). I think that more often than not, when the recent stuff fails, its more a matter of poor production choices than bad songwriting.

  2. XtianDC Says:

    Check that…I mean “post-Berry” of course!

  3. Indeed. With REM getting inducted into the Rock Hall recently I’ve been listening to them alot, and mainly the later albums. I often tell people that Hi-Fi is my favorite, but I also really enjoy Up and Reveal. I must say though that I find Around the Sun to be frustrating. I’ve tried many times to get into it and its just not happening. Not enough rough edges maybe? I don’t know, haven’t given up yet though.

  4. Jamie Says:

    Stipe said that Electron Blue was the name of an imaginary drug, if that’s any matter.

  5. Michael Says:

    XtianDC: I’m one who believes that the failures of AtS and Reveal are mostly due to bad songwriting. Musically, none of the song structures are very interesting, or diverse. Stipe generally sings at the same pace and meter over every track, rarely takes his melodies outside of the confines of the chord progressions. To me, there’s little spontanaeity in the songwriting that makes the rest of their catalog so intriguing. The best songs feel predictable somehow. And Stipe’s lyrics have never been more self-involved and self-conscious. I don’t want to sound overly negative, but I really can’t find much redeeming on the past couple records from a songwriting perspective. The production is the least of my concerns. But I will say that “Disappear” is great, and probably my favorite song on either record.

  6. anney Says:

    that’s a great definition of a later rem song… pep song… i love it!

  7. ozon Says:

    Certainly one of the most exciting song on Electron Blue, musically. The lyrics are pretty bad but I can get past that and still thoroughly enjoy this one.

  8. EK Alex Says:

    I know expectations always run high with these guys but Around The Sun was a considerable disappointment to me and that’s the first time I’ve ever felt that way about an REM record. By the high standards they set, it seems to be permeated by mediocre and linear songwriting and the production is way too clean, taking the edge off of the tracks. Songs like ‘I Wanted To Be Wrong’ and ‘Leaving New York’ aren’t half bad and could have been more interesting if handled differently in the studio. As with ‘Up’ and ‘Reveal’, the songs seem to stand up better live but many fans, myself included, will be hoping for something of more substance next time around.

  9. Chad Says:

    Nice entry. Small typo: Whenever I try to give a simple answer to skeptical people who can’t understand why I enjoy so much late period R.E.M., {{one the points}} I try to hit

  10. caroline. Says:

    wow -you just explained why my favorite song off of that album is my favorite song – even though i didn’t know why.


  11. Nicole Says:

    My daughter has loved this song since she first heard it when she was 3. I think “you run electron blue” means “you are full of energy” someone who never stops but is always on.

  12. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    “Electron Blue” is a difficult song for me. It is one of the few songs from the Pat McCarthy produced albums where I feel the production is appropriate for the song and doesn’t wash out the songs emotion. In fact, McCarthy’s spacey and washed out production fits this song perfectly. When I first heard ATS I thought “wow, this song is pretty cool” and “this is the type of late period REM song that has enough hook to it to be a possible single” and generally liked the song. However, while I still enjoy it the song does not have a ton of staying power for me – which I think is largely because of the lyrics, which are not some of Michael’s most inspired. However, its nice to find a McCarthy produced song where the song can survive the flat production, even if the song is sort of fluff.

  13. raav Says:

    Adding to Jamies comment, Electron Blue is drug made of light.

  14. Oblique Strategy Says:

    Hmm, this may be my least favorite REM song of the past 10 years. It is no “Shiny Happy People” but I just don’t find it a worthy effort.

  15. Xtal Says:

    It frustrates me that post-[Berry] REM is essentially dismissed out of hand and across the board.

    I see your point, but hearing that drum machine kick in on Electron Blue honestly does make me a bit sad.

  16. […] to live out his fondest desires. It’s essentially the flip side of the musically similar “Electron Blue.” Whereas that song is from the perspective of someone in love with an exciting person who is caught […]

  17. Scott Malobisky Says:

    tingling up the spine fine (fine)
    lemon lime lip drop of a dime (fine)
    recline in the wilderness restless resign (fine)
    spirits chanting in my fairy-taled chambered mind (fine)………..this song is just that..so FINE…try it with your first cup of coffee in the morning after an exceptionally great night’s sleep, makes you feel like anything is possible –even the prize you thought you could never acquire–ANYTHING as long you don’t compromise the important things about yourself , i.e., your impeccable character and integrity______note: “your buzz is starting to wane”, bad lyric , out of place lyric, the entire song sounds like , feels like one cracklin coffee buzz spreading thru the bones and then that line…is just so out of place, against the grain BTW, . don’t like that “pep talk” reference with this song, the song to me has something else going on but I don’t know what …….. though “pastel synth”, yes , right on….a very REM-esque song to me although that is a strange thing to say because it sounds like nothing else of theirs, like “you , you know where to run “, really works for me on a personal level .

  18. DJ Says:

    I realize I like this album a lot more than most people but when it came to this song allthough I enjoyed the music and the melodies and lyrics I always felt this song sounded empty. However, the version on the R.E.M. Live album filled that void and turned into(in my mind) a classic R.E.M. song. It reminds me of my wife who has found a career she loves and yet is always looking to the next thing. Not in a bad way, but in a “OK Ive done this, now how can I better myself?” way. Also, Michael’s voice on this song is gorgeous.

  19. DE Says:

    Electron Blue is a very, very powerful song to me. I’ve listened to it more than 500 times, and it helped me to get over a very painful and depressive life-time.

    However, in my opinion there may apply many stories, situations the song might describe.

    All you need to do is just to get down to the heart of the matter. Personally for me, I can compare a story the life (my life) has written the song fits to.

    R. E. M. is well known for there deep meanings of words, pls. just remind ‘Everybody Hurts’.

  20. Gem Says:

    “Stipe said that Electron Blue was the name of an imaginary drug, if that’s any matter.” I agree with Jamie, i heard Michael talk about Electron Blue as being a kind of wonder drug when introducing the song when i saw them play in Manchester afew years back.

    Great blog by the way! I have been listeneng to REM since i was 9 and dancing around to ‘It’s The End of the World As We Know it (and I Feel Fine) in my PJ’s before school. It’s really given me inspiration to dust off the back catalogue and give it all a re-listen from start to finish.

  21. Dan Says:

    interesting comment about sounding like Peter Cetera in outer space. along with some of the other members of Chicago, he appeared in an early 70s film called “Electra Glide in Blue”.

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