Zither

May 7, 2007

Though “Zither” is somewhat unimpressive as an instrumental composition, its placement on New Adventures In Hi-Fi is crucial to the album’s sequence and conceptual conceit. Hi-Fi is R.E.M.’s most sprawling and eclectic album, and the one thing holding it together is the notion that it is a travelogue of sorts, recorded in fits and starts while they toured throughout the United States in 1995. The album sounds informal and raw, and by foregrounding the means of its creation, certain key themes are emphasized — a sense drift and dislocation; a hardened sentimentality; exploration and self-discovery. “Zither” is the one track that hammers home the “travelogue” concept. Whereas the other cuts imply a sense of movement from place to place, “Zither” is clearly intended to represent (literally and figuratively) a quiet moment of repose between destinations. Essentially, it is the time we kill at airports, hotel rooms, rest stops, diners, and gift shops. The music feels a bit zonked out and slightly bemused, and in the context of the sequence, it’s a welcome palette cleanser between the sexual crisis of “Binky The Doormat” and the stern, martial intro of “So Fast, So Numb.”

20 Responses to “Zither”

  1. Brittany Says:

    Wasn’t Zither recorded in a bathroom? I think that just adds to the whole idea🙂

  2. Mary ALice Says:

    I hadn’t thought of it that way, and so I dig this entry. Thanks for making the sogn mean more to me than it did before!

  3. Mattm Says:

    wow. absolutely on the mark. This is exactly the way I have always felt (though never actually rationalized) about this song. But you’re right this is the time we always find ourselves inevitably killing on that incredible trip that we find ourselves on from time to time. I cannot help but to now consistantly think of rummaging around a gift shop while listening since reading this post. keep going keep going.

  4. Ian Mathers Says:

    Mary Alice beat me to it.

  5. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Lightweight and unneeded. Not even one of the better instrumental tracks. Despite the above mentions I could have done without it on Hi-Fi, although I think its a good interpretation of this little song.

  6. maclure Says:

    Hmmm. I think you nearly convinced me there – but I still think Zither`s pretty lame. Other instrumental tracks, interludes and breaks from other albums offer so much more. I think they could have put something in there that still performed the function of “palette cleanser” but gave the listener more music for their money…

  7. Libor Says:

    Thanks for writing about Zither! I noticed not too much people are interested in Zither and they often think that it´s an odd song. But I have a nice memory for this song – I was only 13 when I first heard Hi-Fi and during that first listen I read some book or something like that – simply I didn´t fully concetrate on the record and the only melody which stayed in my mind from the 1st listen was just Zither. From that time I like that song!

  8. Arkmay Says:

    I always thought that Zither killed the momentum after Binky the Doormat and sort-of flatened out the remainder of the album because of it. Try going from the end of Binky straight into the opening drums of So Fast So Numb. A much better transition in my opinion.

  9. Daniel Says:

    Zither has always been one of those album tracks that I skip over (damn you, conveniance of CDs!), but after a long time I’m starting to accept it.

    More importantly though is that you hurry up and write about Binky The Doormat, just to make my blog feel good about itslef!

  10. Patrick Says:

    Zither is also the last instrumental track to be included on a full-length R.E.M. album, isn’t it? Do we know why? I don’t have them all handy, but I have a feeling all albums up to and including New Adventures included an instrumental track. None have since.


  11. The only R.E.M. lps that include instrumental tracks are New Adventures In Hi-Fi and Automatic For The People. Murmur, Reckoning, and Monster include brief instrumental interludes, but they are tacked on to the end of other tracks and don’t really count.

  12. Patrick Says:

    I must have imagined it then. Probably because a few instrumental tracks pop up as B-sides to singles?

    Still, any idea why they did it or why they stopped? Or is it one of those things that just is the way it is?


  13. I think they only include the instrumental tracks if they are important to the flow of the album.

  14. Dan Says:

    Two thoughts:

    Out of Time had the instrumental “Endgame”, which was a sort of extended intro for “Shiny Happy People”.

    Zither seems to be an intentional novelty – get it, it’s a song called “Zither” that utilizes zither chords? Actually, that’s not that funny. That instrument really is called a zither, though.


  15. “Endgame” is not an instrumental! It may not have proper lyrics, but it does indeed include Michael Stipe on lead vocals.

  16. Scott Malobisky Says:

    starter pack gunny sack of cheap imitation silk that snugly fits the megaphone


  17. […] 22nd, 2007 If New Adventures In Hi-Fi is a sort of travelogue, and “Zither” is the sound of aimless downtime between destinations, “Low Desert” is the song about […]

  18. Idetrorce Says:

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
    Idetrorce

  19. Diana Says:

    These lyrics were written for ‘Zither’ but never recorded

    ”sweet candy popcorn strung like a beaded
    curtain hung over your door. I guess the heat got
    to it all stuck together and dripped on the floor.
    chocolate covered cherries in tin foil boats float in
    formation around the baseboard. i had to fight not to laugh.”

  20. Diana Says:

    And these are the lyrics on ‘Live for today’

    We had this bright idea one late summer night
    Candy-coated popcorn strung like a beaded curtain hung over your door
    I guess the heat got to it, dripped and melted all over the floor
    Chocolate-covered cherries in tin foil boats float around the floorboard
    I had to laugh not to cry
    Now all your possessions, all of your things, all of your hopes, schemes, desires, and most of all, your dreams
    All gone away…gone away…
    All gone away…gone away…
    All gone away
    “Live for today”, you said, “Live for today”
    I had to laugh not to cry
    I had to laugh not to cry, not to cry…


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