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.