The Wake Up Bomb
June 13, 2007
“The Wake Up Bomb” is essentially the dark side of “Crush With Eyeliner.” Whereas the latter is a celebration of creativity and affectation, the former is sung from the perspective of a vain, vapid person who fashions himself into the image of a star for the sake of being famous. It’s rock music as nothing more than a game of dress-up and make believe, and the work of inspired musicians reduced to a string of empty signifiers. It’s what happens when deeply unimaginative people decide to become rock stars, and I’m sure you can make a very long of celebrities who match this description just from the past four years or so.
Stipe’s character is petulant, self-congratulatory, and ambitious in all the wrong ways, but he’s also a bit disillusioned and disgusted by the thing he has become,though not enough to change. The lyrics are not extremely judgmental, but the protagonist of the “The Wake Up Bomb” is certainly one of the more bitter and unflattering characters presented in an R.E.M. song, along with the “Sad Professor,” the creepy sociopath of “I Took Your Name,” and the defendant in “Diminished.”
In some ways, the song tempts the listener to turn on the band a bit — the music is a 70s glam pastiche, and the band’s image in 1995 openly embraced retro kitschiness — but the shallow, blank fashionista of the lyrics is at odds with the character Michael Stipe, whose oddball persona has always strayed far from mainstream expectations of rock and roll stardom. It could be that the lyrics find Stipe imagining himself as the pop star he could have been if he was ever able to repress his distinct, quirky personality.