April 4, 2007

It’s a bad idea to try to pin any sort of narrative on Monster — simply put, one does not exist — but in the context of the album, “You” is the logical conclusion to its general theme of obsessive, unrequited love. By the time we get to “You,” the cuteness of “Crush With Eyeliner,” the coyness of “King of Comedy,” and the earnestness of “Strange Currencies” are all distant memories, and even the destructive self-loathing of “I Took Your Name” and “Circus Envy” has run its course. At this point in the record, the singer’s religion is thoroughly and irrevocably lost, and all that is left is an aching emotional void and a lingering, undead desire.

Peter Buck’s guitars dominate the track, with an eerie pulse emphasizing a sense of post-traumatic shock, and a heavy, slashing rhythm evoking nothing less than total emotional devastation. Michael Stipe’s vocal performance is intense yet slightly disconnected, lending even his most benign sentiments a creepy, unhealthy tone. The song contains some of the most evocative images of Stipe’s career as a lyricist — “all my childhood toys with chew marks in your smile,” “I can see you there with lunar moths and watermelon gum” — but the peculiar specificity of the words only highlights the song’s desperate, deranged sensibility.

As the track comes to an end, Stipe repeats the word “you” with increasingly urgency as the music hits a chilling peak. It sounds like an act of self-nullification, as though he could only think to destroy himself by focusing his entire existence on someone else. When the song begins, Stipe’s character seems physically disconnected from his body and the world, and in its final moments, his mind seems to disappear as well.

12 Responses to “You”

  1. David Says:

    I just found this. As a fairly avid Fluxblog reader, I am ashamed.

    That said, now that I’m here, I am THRILLED. Please, Matthew, from one fan to another, please keep this up. Your insight into (largely) lesser-known album tracks is wonderfully engaging, and as a fan of the band’s late-period output… well, you know that it’s hard to find too many of us these days, sadly.

    Incidentally, I had the pleasure of meeting Mike once, on a night when the Olympic torch came through Atlanta just before the Olympics began, in the mid-90s. Though he was there with other friends, I was able to strike up a quickie conversation with him at the bar about his brother’s (defunct) band, Three Walls Down. How I used to play them as a DJ in the UK, how I missed them, what they were up to, etc.

    He told me it made his night. We chatted a bit more, and went our separate ways.

    Sometimes it takes you only a few seconds to discover how warm somebody is, you know?

  2. xina Says:

    oh my goodness. i love your blog. thank you!

  3. Liz Says:

    I love your blog too! Thank you so much for sharing your insight. I am a big REM fan and you are shedding new light on these songs for me.

  4. gak Says:

    I can’t find the link, but one of the music sites I read had a thematic breakdown on the lyrics to “You” a few months ago. I always loved this song — a heavy dirge that powerfully closes to the album, though I could only manage to hit the high notes at the end of the chorus maybe half the time. Then there’s Mills’ coos in the background, sounding like a far off coyote.

  5. Nicholas Says:

    Chiming in late to say that this is one of my all-time favorite REM songs. Let Me In, also from Monster, is devastating enough, but those final “yous” you write about are giving me goosebumps again just thinking about them.

    It’s also (I think) the song where they deliver the dirge-crunch of Monster the best.

  6. anney Says:

    i always think that rem writes the best love songs, then i find out that they are actually obsession/loss of self songs. “you” is one of them.

  7. ozon Says:

    I never really liked this song though I love Monster. It does a decent job as album closer though, so it’s not like I skip it or anything.

  8. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    The thing about Monster is that on first listen every song sort of sounds the same and sinks down into the murk of mega-processed and distorted guitars (except Tongue), so it took me a longer time with this CD than any other REM album to really “know” the songs, to find the tunes, and get to know the mood and feel (it doesn’t help that Michael’s lyrics are way buried in the mix as well). Furthermore, “You”, being the last song, took even longer because I didn’t get to it every time I put on the CD. That said, while I can’t say “You” is one of REM’s best songs, it is a great encapsulation of the tone and mood, the murk of oppression and obsession, that permeates Monster, and thus a great way to end the CD. Over time I have really come to like and appreciate this song, not because it is incredibly catchy (it’s not) or easy to listen to (it’s not that either) but because it captures emotion in a raw and ragged form and that makes the song powerful and closes the Monster album in a way that is both disturbing and fitting.

  9. Paul ALferink Says:

    This song is really weird. It always sounded like a perfect Nirvana song to me. Kirk Cobain has this great to tired to sing quality to his voice sometimes, (See “Something in the Way”) and I always felt this sounded like a song he would sing. It kind of bothers me since this song is really an album highlight for me, much more so then “Strange Currancy” or “Bang and Blame,” Yet it never got live play to speak of, while every other Monster song save “King of Comedy” did.

  10. transformerdog Says:

    yeah , that Millzy , he’s a warm cat and a cool cat too…(what’s up with Stipe and his lunar moths ? he picks that image up again later but in a way where one can decipher it clearly–well , it is on the album lyric sheet then , too)..Mike Mills is a HUGE baseball fan, unfortunately his favorite team is the Atlanta Braves , probably my least favorite team cuz’ I’m still smartin’ from the devastation wrought back in ’92 when they came from behind in the 9th inning when two runs down to defeat my beloved Buccos in the deciding game of the play-offs. Oh Man, that stung to the bone marrow…….AND THE PIRATES HAVEN’T HAD A WINNING SEASON SINCE!!….But last summer Millzy, the warm/cool cat that he is, composed an original song in honor of Roberto Clemente that was played by him in pre-All Star game festivites in beautiful (and so misunderstood) Pittsburgh PA. .,Thanx Mike !! That was awesome.

  11. […] the record. Granted, the stakes aren’t as high as in, say, “I Took Your Name” or “You,” but there’s a sense that the singer isn’t that bothered by the fact that he’s […]

  12. […] meets ersatz R&B — but it eventually reaches a sudden, cathartic vamp that rivals only “You” from Monster as being the most angst-ridden finale in the R.E.M. discography. Posted by […]

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