Try Not To Breathe
May 24, 2007
I can never hear “Try Not To Breathe” without remembering one of my friends from high school explain to me that he wasn’t allowed to have his tape of Automatic For The People during his stay in a mental institution because the doctors believed the song would encourage thoughts of suicide. I’m not even sure if they actually listened to it — they may have just been going on the title — but even if they had, they probably had a good point. The lyrics are very morbid, and its character welcomes death with a clarity of mind that is simultaneously comforting and startling. If there was ever a song that could serve to rationalize suicidal thoughts, it’s “Try Not To Breathe.” It’s enough to make me wonder if Michael Stipe felt compelled to write “Everybody Hurts” if just to provide a crucial counterpoint to this track.
There are two versions of “Try Not To Breathe.” The album recording is mostly acoustic and feels rather airy in spite of a fairly complicated arrangement that allows for several subtle textural shifts. The band reworked the song significantly for the Monster tour, transforming it into a towering stadium rock number mainly by streamlining its arrangement and transposing its central, winding instrumental hook into a seemingly gigantic distorted guitar riff. That version certainly had its merits, but the lyrics make much more sense with the more peaceful accompaniment of the studio recording.