At My Most Beautiful

April 1, 2007

Depending on how you parse some lyrics, there’s a fair few sentimental love songs in the R.E.M. discography, but none of them are nearly as straightforward and sweet as “At My Most Beautiful.” Musically, it’s an obvious Beach Boys pastiche, and one of the few post-Berry numbers to strongly emphasize vocal harmonies. It’s a very pretty track, but without Michael Stipe’s wonderfully specific lyrics, it wouldn’t be much more than yet another tribute to Brian Wilson’s gift for evoking the innocent beauty of new love.

Stipe’s voice is soft and demure as he finds the romance in mundane details — his lover is exceeding patient when listening to his stilted poetry; he saves their phone messages to hear their voice; he’s always pleasantly surprised that they always say their name when leaving a voice mail “like I wouldn’t know it’s you.” If you have a heart, there’s only one way to respond to all of this: Awwwwwwwwwww!

Stipe seems remarkably vulnerable in this song; just helplessly in love. The title is “At My Most Beautiful,” and crucially, he makes it clear in the second verse that he only feels beautiful in the reflection of his lover’s adoration. It’s not the most assertive sentiment in the world, but it’s humble, honest, and emotionally true.

26 Responses to “At My Most Beautiful”

  1. Tim Says:

    That’s really a beautiful reading of the song Matthew. I love this one. It’s almost giddy in it’s unbridled love, in contrast to the delicate arrangement.

  2. ADB Says:

    This song has particularly happy memories for me, as it was the entrance music at my wedding. My wife has lived with my REM obsession for years, and though she’s not their biggest fan, her coming down the aisle to this was kind of her little present to me.

    Great blog by the way.

  3. Zoomtard Says:

    Just like ADB, this song has played a major role in my life, being central to my wedding day. Just like ADB, my wife has patiently put up with my R.E.Mania all these years even if she doesn’t exactly share it.

    But she shared it for this song which seemed to beautifully capture what it means when a human utterly loves and freely commits to another. The loved is beautiful, the love is beautiful and the lover is made who they are truly meant to be in reaction to the relationship, that is they are at their most beautiful.

    For this reason, it was the first dance song at our wedding reception. It fitted perfectly.

    This is a brilliant idea for a blog Matthew, superbly well done!

  4. Fernando Says:

    This was always the song I would have written if:
    a)I was in love
    b)I had any sort of musical talent

  5. S.J.Hirons Says:

    On the Beach Boys tip, I’m sure I heard or read either Mike Mills or Peter Buck say Stipe’s original lyric was called ‘Smile’ until they pointed out the association that would come with calling it that. Possibly those lyrics went on to become ‘Why Not Smile?’ (?)


  6. Well, “Smile” is a sensible title for this song, don’t you think? The chorus is “I’ve found a way to make you smile.”

  7. Aaron Says:

    I love this blog! I’m so happy to find it.

    And At My Most Beautiful is an amazing track. One of those tracks that I played so much that certain people in my life would happily never hear it again. But they’re just haters.

  8. ^kat^ Says:

    I wonder what it says about me that I have *always* heard this as a stalker song. The fact that people have played this at their weddings literally astonishes me… but there’s nothing in the lyrics that would imply anything other than pure love. I guess the quiet delivery and everything else just made it seem more ironically sinister than sweet.

  9. Mary Alice Says:

    I don’t see it as stalkerish at all. I think it’s very sweet. It’s “Losing My Religion” that’s the stalker song.

  10. Catapult Says:

    Seems I share a life moment with with ADB and Zoom. I too have a wife who patiently endures my REM obsession, and who allowed an REM presence at our wedding with “At My Most Beautiful” (although not the first dance, as I had wished…It was either the third or forth song played). I knew I wanted an REM song, and at the time it was the perfect choice. Of course, shortly thereafter, REM released Reveal. Now every time I listen to “Beat A Drum” I wish I could somehow travel back in time and have it played instead.

    By the way, it is definitely NOT a stalker song…I heard Michael himself say in an interview after Up that AMMB was the only song in REM’s catalog that he wrote with the sole intention of being a love song.

    As for LMR being a stalker song: I have also heard Michael explain the meaning behind it, and it’s anything but stalker-esque. According to Michael, “losing my religion” is an old southern expression for when you reveal your innermost feelings to someone, rendering yourself completely vulnerable and emotionally exposed, and they either don’t respond, or they use those feelings against you. Knowing this, the song makes perfect sense: “That’s me in the spotlight”; “Oh no, I’ve said too much, I haven’t said enough”; “I thought that I heard you laughing” I can’t hear this song anymore without thinking of this interpretation. Simply beautiful.

  11. jim jos Says:

    this is proof that Stipe as a lyricist, and the band as a whole, can make very simple yet beautiful music with an almost Hallmark sentiment and not have it be bland or boring.

  12. Mary Alice Says:

    Catapult…tell me where you found that Michael said that? First 1)I’ve heard him say LosingMR was his attempt at trying to write a better “Every Breath You Take”…which is definitly an obsessive type of song.

    and 2)I’m from the south and Losing My Religion doesn’t mean what you said it means down here, and I’ve always heard Michael give it the right meaning in interviews. It means losing your temper, being exasperated it comes from the idea of being so mad over something it makes you literally lose/question your faith.

  13. Catapult Says:

    Mary-

    I saw it on VH1 Storytellers a few years ago. The band performed a short set in front of a small audience. Michael gave a brief intro to each song, talking about inspiration, meaning etc, and he explained it like this:

    “Losing My Religion” is not about religion at all; “it’s just a song about having a crush,” says Michael Stipe. “When you have a crush on somebody, and you think they understand it, but you’re not sure, and you’re dropping all kinds of hints, and you think they’re responding to these hints, but you’re not sure, that’s what this song is about, thinking you’ve gone too far.”

  14. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I, like Catapult, have also heard the Stipe quote about the term “losing my religion” is an old southern expression for being open and honest and being too exposed, especially when the sentiment is not returned.

    As to “At My Most Beautiful” I personally have never thought of it as a stalker song in any way myself, but there is bit of a dark undercuurent to the song. In my opinion it is by far REM’s best Beach Boys influenced song and a personal favorite from Up. I love the drum and percussion in this song, especially considering it is from the post-Berry era.

    Finally, like several of you my wife does not share my passion for REM and I must confess I have plagiarised lines from this song to write bad love poetry for her, knowing she would likely never know. I’ve been naughty . . 🙂

  15. John Micek Says:

    Like several other posters, this song was the first dance when my wife and I got married. And, like other posters, she, too, has exhibited god-like patience when it comes to enduring my REM fixation (“What? Another book?”).
    There are few songs that are this giddily happy, and, honestly, quite as lovely to listen to.

  16. RDB Says:

    “At My Most Beautiful” follows a line of songs that began with “You are the Everything” on Green. This song floored me when I heard it in 1989. Stipe-the-Opaque, Stipe-the-Oblique was finally showing us his heart and guts.

    Since then, he’s gone on to “lose his religion” on “Everybody Hurts” and a few others, and what I want to add to the discussion is this: When someone who is smart–but also coy and protective–finally lets it all hang out and is emotionally revealing, the effect is, well, affecting. And honest. Songs like AMMB, “Why Not Smile,” and “Be Mine” are so moving because Stipe is not a bullshitter.

  17. Mary Alice Says:

    when losing my religion is the song we can debate that some more but I swear to you I’m from the south and it doesn’t mean revealing yourself! Not in any positive way, it’s not a positive phrase. And Losing My Religion isn’t a healthy song, it’s kind of stalkerish…just look for any interview where Michael says he wanted to write a better “Every Breath You Take”…he’s obsessed with this guy, so yeah, he wonders if this guy knows how he feels but the “Losing My Religion” refers to the negative and anguish because he doesn’t think this guy likes him back and it’s making him lose his faith. It doesn’t mean “reveal yourself” like something positive..it means to be really mad, losing your temper, upset, losing your faith, so in this case he’s upset and almost giving up on this other guy (“that was just a dream”) not revealing himself.

  18. Tony Says:

    I have a special affection for this song – it was my the first dance of my wife and I at our wedding reception.

    Just came across this site today via a link from Deadspin.
    Fantastic work – keep it up.

  19. Oblique Strategy Says:

    Stipe has said he was trying to write a Brian Wilson song for Peter and Mike when he wrote this. Did a pretty good job. This song has special meaning to me and my wife and, just after we were married, we went into a Walgreen’s in suburban Chicago (where she is from) and this song was spilling from the speakers. I forced her to dance with me in an empty aisle (even when it was broken by “price check on 3”.)

  20. protimoi86 Says:

    I believe this is the first of R.E.M.’s love songs that can’t possibly be construed as creepy or stalkerish. Every time I listen to this gorgeous track it makes me think of someone who is just head over heels for their partner. It’s not lust, desire, obsession; it’s love, pure and simple. Nothing makes the narrator happier than seeing his/her significant other smile.

  21. Scott Malobisky Says:

    WOW !! some amazing personal testimonies here !! luv these comments , each one seems to get better ! I really dig the stutter-step thing that suddenly comes out of nowhere toward the end of this track (think about it , if you had heard this song a thousand times up to where that comes in but no further , would you be able to anticipate it coming?) Just super songwritng..This song always sticks out to me on this album ‘cuz I recall reading about this song in a review of this album before ever hearing the record which sort of changes the experience.


  22. […] that dominate the piece pull the track away from a more straightforward Brian Wilson homage a la “At My Most Beautiful.” Posted by Matthew Perpetua Filed in […]

  23. Lai Says:

    i’m in love with a beautiful girl… that’s at my most beautiful.


  24. […] source: popsongs […]

  25. ChampionOfTheWorld Says:

    How’s that going for you, Lai ?

  26. Zow Says:

    Has anyone ever thought he was saying goodbye to a dying loved on?


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