So Fast, So Numb

April 7, 2007

I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me eleven years to notice two very obvious things about New Adventures In Hi-Fi — first, that it’s mainly comprised of songs that emphasize briskly strummed guitar chords as opposed to Peter Buck’s usual penchant for “jangly” arpeggiation, and second, that a majority of its songs either dress down or reach out to very damaged individuals. With that in mind, “So Fast, So Numb” can be seen as the quintessential Hi-Fi track in the way it hitches its confrontational tough love lyrics to a composition built around harsh acoustic strumming and crisp, propulsive percussion. Though the song conveys a strong sense of frustrated exasperation, Michael Stipe nevertheless manages to express a great deal of empathy in both his words and his performance. He seems bitter, betrayed, and more than a little disgusted by his ex-lover’s apparent drug problem, but unwilling to completely abandon him.

19 Responses to “So Fast, So Numb”

  1. Tim Says:

    I love this blog. Fantastic idea. I have been making an itunes playlist with all of the songs in the order you review them.
    And who knows, by the time you finish you may have a whole new album of songs to decipher and rant about.

  2. Kevs Says:

    This one’s about Courtney Love, right? I remember her rambling about it back in the day. Crush With Eyeliner was Stipe’s love letter to her, this is kind of the WTF are you doing song. Looking at her these days, it’s time for him to write her another similar song.

  3. anney Says:

    i always thought this song was underrated, the whole album actually. is it just me, or does it have a western feel to it? like if someone were to make a film noir/western you’d want new adventures in hi fi, and songs like “so fast so numb” and “low desert” on the soundtrack.

  4. ^kat^ Says:

    I LOVE this song. I always liked it, but after I heard it performed live, it took on an insistency and energy that it didn’t have before, particularly the “LISTEN!” portions.

  5. Bandwagon03 Says:

    I always liked this song, personally, i took it as a reference to “Old School” REM types bitching and complaining about REM’s new sound and things not sounding like they used to…I know its about a jilted friendship, but, i think this line could be used to relay the message to old REM fans.

    “Listen, this is now, this is here, this is me,
    This is what I wanted you to see This is what I wanted you to see That was then, was that, that is gone, this is past,”

  6. Ignis Says:

    Why is this album so underrated? That would be an interesting evaluation. The album contains great lines like “I’ll be the sky above the ganges” and “aluminum tastes like fear…” among others. So Fast So Numb has always been a favorite and was excited to hear them play live a few years ago.

  7. robo Says:

    One of the best songs on NAIHF…and I agree with those saying how good it was to see live on the last tour. Fantastic, as the band always rocks up the material when live. This is easily one of my favorite REM albums. I agree with those who feel it is underrated. While it didn’t have the commercial success of others, I would highly recommend it to those just discovering the band. To think it was all recorded on the road either backstage or during soundchecks is quite amazing. And, alas, Bill’s last record…well, at least he went out on a good note! Keep up the site…while we may not agree with all you say, it is a great topic starter and an excellent read.

  8. Eh Nonymous Says:

    Love this entry. Love this blog concept. Keep it up! SFSN is one of my top four on that album, which is on my top 4 REM albums.

    Looking forward to the rest of the posts as you fulfill your mission statement.

    (Listening to Final Straw on my iPod)

  9. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    “So Fast, So Numb” is one of my favorite REM songs as well. It seems at least among the dedicated fans that this song has great appeal. I remember thinking this song would have made a much better “rock song” single that “Bittersweet Me” at the time. As to why NAIHF is underrated, a couple of thoughts:

    1. Monster killed off a lot of newer REM fans that loved OOT and AFTP, but never really warmed up to Monster. Thus, they never gave NAIHF a chance.

    2. “E-Bow The Letter” is an amazing and powerful song but probably not the best choice for a lead single. It’s too dark and eerie for mainstream radio. It appeals to the hardcore fan more than the casual REM fan. “So Fast, So Numb”, “Departure”, or “Electrolite” would have likely been more radio friendly choices for a first single. “Electrolite” especially if you want to appeal to the same audience as “Losing My Religion” and “Everybody Hurts” and “Man On The Moon” did.

    3. The album’s title seems to signal BIG change, when really the CD is a more of a blending of AFTP and Monster, with some sonic tricks. It’s similar in feel and tone to AFTP (way more so that Monster was) and so really should have appealed to the more casual fan but the title implies REM was heading off in another new direction. For the casual REM fan put off my Monster, this said: “I’m different that what you are looking for”.

    4. The “alternative revolution” of the 90’s was ending and REM (which had been name-checked a million times as the godfathers or grandfather or forerunners of alternative) lost some of the increase in general popularity that came with that role as that style of rock declined in popularity somewhat.

    Obviously, these are just my thoughts, but I think they are true

  10. […] between the sexual crisis of “Binky The Doormat” and the stern, martial intro of “So Fast, So Numb.” Posted by Matthew Perpetua Filed in New Adventures In […]

  11. Brad Says:

    Great song…and seemingly my iPod’s favorite song on shuffle. The piano chord at the end of the chorus has become one of those wonderful interactive musical roadtrip moments, as my wife and I reflexively bang it out on the dashboard or steering wheel.

    I love this album because it’s the private possession of hardcore R.E.M. fans. As for how that happened, I agree with most of the reasons listed. MTV and radio weren’t about to get behind “E-bow”, and past that song there was never much of a publicity push. And not touring didn’t help. Even living in Athens, the album’s release buzz never seemed to take hold. Start to finish my favorite Warner-era album.

  12. Gabriel Peters Says:

    “private possession of hardcore R.E.M. fans” is a nice and to the point description… One of the best rock albums I Know and the last great R.E.M. album – I wish that it had been the last R.E.M. album at all. And all albums after that (Up, Reveal, etc.) were published under the band name “Mike (Stipe) and the Mechanics” or something like that… So Fast, So Numb is my favorite Song on the album, my favorite R.E.M. song, my favorite rock song, on of the best artistic statements I know…

  13. Adam Says:

    I totally agree with Bandwagon03. When they play this song live he is almost screaming that lyric- “This is now, this is here, this is me, this is what I wanted you to see – that was then, that is gone, it’s past”

    I was actually glad when I got this because it helped me to see the new stuff in a different light. As an artist is must suck for people to always want to you play things you wrote 20 years ago.

  14. Scott Malobisky Says:

    I like what Arkmay said; Zither breaks up the rocking momentum between Binky and this , I agree that this song coming right on the heels of Binky after maybe a split second of silence would have been especially kick-ass.

  15. Matthew Says:

    Imagine if this had been their last album… to finish your career with the lines “I’m outta here” would have been utterly fantastic.

  16. transformerdog Says:

    cartilage , shark eye , and shark heart
    definitely another second tier favorite

  17. […] nearly identical to “Binky The Doormat,” and its tone is like a cross between “So Fast, So Numb” and “E-Bow The Letter.” It’s not a retread or a retreat, but it’s certainly […]

  18. Devilmath Says:

    does anybody agree if I say that I noticed some gay references on the lyric?

  19. Diana Says:

    I heard it was about River Phoenix (As are ‘E-bow’ and ‘Departure’ apparantly.)

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