She Just Wants To Be

June 15, 2007

Right around the time I started this project, I started listening to a lot of the R.E.M. music that I’d mostly ignored in recent years. (Actually, I’d mostly ignored the majority of it — as with a lot of my favorite acts, I tend to stop listening to them for extended periods of time in order to keep things fresh.) Anyway, on my way to visit with a friend who is also a big fan of the band, I listened to most of Reveal, and when I saw him, I just asked him: What exactly is the problem with Reveal? I mean, there’s definitely something wrong with it, but aside from “I’ll Take The Rain,” the songs are pretty good. Some of them are great, even. “She Just Wants To Be” is the perfect example of the Reveal dilemma — there’s some interesting ideas and a decent tune, but it just doesn’t come together. It’s like a beautifully decorated cake that could’ve used a bit more eggs and sugar.

There’s something a bit uncomfortable about the way “She Just Wants To Be” feels simultaneously strident and languorous, and Michael Stripe’s atrocious grammar ruins the lyrics for me. (In fairness, one shouldn’t come to rock music expecting excellent grammar, but “it’s not that the transparency of her earlier incarnations now looked back on weren’t rich and loaded with beautiful vulnerability” is a truly horrendous construction, especially if English is your first language.) It’s about a minute and a half too long, and in concert, Peter Buck extends it further with a guitar solo that is neither impressive or exciting. It’s not entirely unpleasant, but man, it’s hard to imagine someone actively wanting to listen to this song, much less perform it live.

41 Responses to “She Just Wants To Be”

  1. Justin Says:

    I agree that the lyric you cited is a tad…strained when read like that. But in the context of the song, and his delivery, I think it’s kinda cool (to use a phrase common in music criticism).

    As for the live performance of the song, it does offer Michael an extended opportunity to dance like only he (and a drunken adolescent) can.


  2. I do love Reveal, but this song…for precisely the same inexpressible reasons…just doesn’t seem to work for me. I WANT to like it. And I think a large part of me is actively TRYING to enjoy it…but yeah. The weakspot on the album, if you ask me. (Though, perhaps oddly, I’d be genuinely interested in hearing an extended outro live version.)

  3. The Effort Says:

    Matthew:

    I couldn’t agree more. When R.E.M. played on Yonge St. in Toronto after “Reveal” was released, Stipe introduced “She Just Wants To Be” by saying, “This is my favourite song.” It isn’t mine, at all.

    It really does manifest the pervasive sonic problem with “Reveal”: there’s too much going on, boringly. But more distressingly for me, it manifests the problems I have with Michael Stipe’s lyrics and performance since “Up”. The words land jerkily on the beat in every song (the section you quote sounds like “It’s not that. The transparency. Of her earlier incarnations. Now looked back on. Weren’t rich. Aaaand loaded. With beautiful. Vulnerability.” To say nothing of “She. Just. Wants. To. Be. Soooooomewhere.”) There’s pretension: “pomegranate afternoons” “Mingus, Chet Baker and chess”…eeurgh.

    And it’s the clumsiest version of the late-period “pep talk” song, with that “Now is greater/And she knows that” horseshit. And exactly who is “she”, anyway? I mean, COME ON! WHY?! WHY DID THEY MAKE THIS SONG?!

    Sorry. Thanks.

  4. maclure Says:

    Nothing more to add. Excellent description of my feeling of the song from Matthew.

  5. catapult Says:

    I gained a new appreciation for this song after seeing it performed live. Michael’s dance during Peter’s extended guitar solo at the end had me spellbound. I believe he touched every square inch of the stage over those 2 minutes or so, and it was such a beautiful thing to watch. OK, so maybe the song itself still isn’t among their best, but it made for one of my favorite REM concert memories.

  6. ADB Says:

    Have to say, I agree with all of the above – for me, SJWTB is just plain boring. Even songs I don’t particularly like from earlier albums don’t bore me like this one does. I have the same problems with its length, the pretentious / convoluted lyrics, the clumsy phrasing, and the unaccountable fact that it seems to be a favourite of the band’s, and pretty much a mainstay of the live show.

    On the wider question of what is wrong with Reveal, one of the big problems for me is the summer theme. The other late period REM albums all have much darker / deeper / more interesting lyrical themes linking the songs (death and mortality on AFTP, obsession on Monster, travel / separation / isolation on New Adventures, transformation / redemption on Up – hell, even Around The Sun has a political edge) whereas the general theme of the songs on Reveal seems to be ‘Phew! Isn’t it warm and sunny?’ I know there’s more to Reveal than that (and it does have some great songs: The Lifting, I’ve Been High, Beat A Drum – and these tend to be the ones with more interesting lyrical concerns) but it does feel very superficial and insubstantial compared to most of their other albums.

  7. dan Says:

    I’ve never heard a live version, but I was told that apparently it was “better” than the album version. I still don’t want to hear it (especially if it’s longer).

    The intro riff is good, that’s about it.

  8. Tuck Says:

    Wow. I really thought everyone liked SJWTB and I was the only one who didn’t get it. In concert, this was always the song I waited for the band to start playing so I could run out to get another beer. And they were always still playing it when I got back to my seat. Even its abbreviation is too long.

  9. mouserobot Says:

    I knew an REM fan once who said that the live version of this song was one of their best songs ever. Personally, I find it hard to believe that REM could liven up this song; it just sounds like REM paint by numbers almost.

  10. Rich Says:

    To me, Reveal’s biggest fault is its insistance that everything be midtempo. Each track is taken at the same, unenthusiastic pace, from beginning to end (making Imitation of Life seem a lot more upbeat than it actually is). I can imagine SJWTB as performed by a younger version of R.E.M., with loud Bill drums driving it along at a Document-type pace. It would be a much better song in such a context, but alas that R.E.M. is no more. On Reveal, the song simply plods along without anything interesting happening, leaving you to focus on Michael’s particularly irritating lyric. I agree that it’s more enjoyable live, but I’d still be happy to see it disappear from the band’s setlists forever.

  11. blursongs Says:

    Hasn’t every R.E.M. song been Michael’s favourite at one point?

    Anyhow, I agree with everyone else, there’s sth very wrong with this and some other songs on Reveal. Even The Lifting, which I think is one of the band’s best songs (and probably my favourite of the Berryless years), sounds a bit off…

  12. Justin Says:

    Man. It’s a good thing I’m not authoring this blog, or I would be accused of rampant R.E.M. homer-ism.

    Call me pollyanna, but I can find something good about just about every song by these guys. In SJWTB, I actually love the “pomegranate afternoons” and “Mingus Chet Baker…”

    If nothing else, it’s evocative. Don’t you have a mental picture of a girl on a summer afternoon lying in a screened-in porch with a breeze blowing and jazz playing? Well, I do. And it’s a good image.

    Just like the image I get from “a blue jay hectors from a felled catalpa tree.” Smirk or shudder if you want – and yes, it’s a bit stilted – but I get an instant technicolor picture. From the words and the music.

    So there’s that.

  13. dave s Says:

    The problem with this song is that it’s r.e.m.’s version of Van Halen’s, “And the cradle will rock.” It tries and tries and never gets off the ground, it keeps crashing back down to earth, even though you want it, really want it to soar. You can tell there is talent behind the song somewhere, but you just can’t find it in the song. I suspect the dances and extended guitar solo in the live show are the result of knowing the song needs something more….

  14. David T Says:

    > “Even its abbreviation is too long.”

    LOL, Tuck!

    I think I agree with dan…when I first listened to Reveal, I loved the acoustic guitar lick at the beginning, and the combination of that guitar sound and the minor key was refreshing after the somewhat busy (though enjoyable to me now) production of the first few songs. But then…I dunno, the song just doesn’t have that great tension-then-catharsis that characterizes so many REM songs. Maybe it’s the fact that the song stays in the same minor key for the chorus that is used in the verse…the chorus of this one just doesn’t provide the “release” found in other “minor-key REM songs” (Driver 8, Losing My Religion, even Imitation of Life from this record).

    Then again, in certain moods, and when the volume is turned way up, I kind of dig this one…but I never skip ahead to it…

  15. drew. Says:

    i love this song. it is one of R.E.M.’s finest moments. each and every R.E.M. record has its own feel and emotional level. Reveal is their summer/lingering album and every track catches the mood perfectly.

  16. Scott Malobisky Says:

    I kinda agree with Justin ,I like this song, I like the organ, maybe I am a hopeless REM junkie too but …..the lyrics to me are poetic , not the best poetry in the world certainly but it’s got that Stipe aura thing going on like only he can do it; I can’t believe how you all are talking about how he danced around during the solo at the end !! He sprawled out on the stage when I saw them do this , maybe so bored by his own composition –or was it PB’s solo?:)–that he was ready to go to sleep; nah , Mr. Slinky never sleeps..

  17. Scott Malobisky Says:

    this song has a real European flavor to it for some reason..though somewhat corny , when I hear it I envision a bunch of teenage girls (REM much more popular with a younger crowd there than in the States)in , like Luxembourg, singing along to the chorus and giggling

  18. tomer Says:

    the song that wants to be so much more.

  19. tomer Says:

    Just wants to be so much more. dammit, i screwed that up, didn’t i?

  20. wolfy Says:

    I have a Fan Club CD that has a live version form 2004 and it sounds much better than on the CD. I still like Reveal for what it is.

  21. Matthew Says:

    This is actually one of my Reveal favourites… I was staggered to find the other day that Reveal is my most listened-to R.E.M. record. It’s certainly not my favourite, but for some reason, I keep coming back to it. I like the ‘sonic bath’ it gives you!

    And for my two cents; Stipe’s lyrics are fantastic on this. His stilted delivery sends shivers, and I think, as someone said above, that this is one of the most evocative songs on Reveal, image wise.


  22. Matthew:

    Any chance of you setting up a “most recent comments” section on the right hand side? I just clicked through a bunch of older entries and realized I could be missing some great discussion without even knowing it. (I know, I know…I’m a whiner…)


  23. One of my favorite artists of all time is Madonna. She is one true super stars of our generation. She is also one of the first women who started out as just a pop star but managed to have staying power. I believe this is because she is a great businesswoman. Madonna has a great voice that has only…

  24. Michael Black, Ph.D. Says:

    I think there are three watersheds in the REM catalogue; records that superceded the rest and stand as the archetypes for what the band was trying to capture during the specific period. Those records are Murmur, Automatic for the People, and Reveal. Not that the others aren’t great. It’s simply that these transcend.

    Reveal is the record that made me a fan again and demonstrated that REM were by means finished. Of Reveal, Peter or Mike has said that it’s creation involved the gradual arrangement of instruments around a guitar line that was subsequently removed. Like Up, I don’t consider it a guitar record, although SJWTB has a great guitar solo. The fact that it is not a guitar record may be what makes so many balk at it. Sorry, but New Adventures may be the last REM guitar record. That seems liberating to me.

    As far as applying grammatical rules as a litmus test for the quality of literary art; that’s absurd. The best literature, and the best art for that matter, are completely unconscious of rules.

  25. Michael Black, Ph.D. Says:

    That should read “by no means finished.”

  26. 2d Says:

    this song is actually one of my favourites from reveal. it has a very hollow and haunting sound, and the chorus feels like an explosion that’s been contained inside a tin can. it has a real cinematic and surreal feeling, and i actually think the lyrics are both explicit and vague enough to ensure a semi-transcendental feeling that permeates the entire song, start to finish. it’s a very powerful but restrained song, like it’s trying to push a certain limit but never seems to make it through. and i mean that in the best possible way. its self-strain is actually the most interesting part about it.


  27. >The best literature, and the best art for that matter, are completely unconscious of rules.

    Man, I disagree entirely, but it’s probably just down to the matter of your phrasing. The best works of literature may well trancend those rules, or intentionally break or ignore them entirely…but never are they unconcious of the rules. Being conscious of the rules you are breaking is what separates art from chaos.

  28. corduroy13 Says:

    Well said, MWAM! Although I might not always understand abstract the art, the difference between Jackson Pollock and me splattering paint on a canvas with zero knowledge of what I’m doing/not doing, is mighty big indeed.

  29. Kirsten Says:

    I really love the stop-start manor in which this song is sung. And I hate to tell you Matthew, but since reading the words in your blog, they now sound clearer and BETTER to me than they did before – bad english or not.

    Reveal is one of those albums I think that I don’t like, so I hardly ever listen to it. When I do put it on, it’s usually ’cause I want to hear Saturn Returns. After listening to that a couple of times, I listen to the rest of Reveal, and find gem after gem. Not sure why I think that I don’t like it, but it really is quite good.

  30. 2d Says:

    oh, and i forgot to mention the fact that i love the jamie candiloro remix for this track. as a matter of fact, it’s the only remix i actually like from reveal.

  31. 2fs Says:

    The problem with Reveal, for me, is that the first four or five tracks are all in pretty much the same key, and most of them are in the same dirgey midtempo. (That last is an ongoing issue: dammit guys, play something *fast* once in a while!) The first problem can be dealt with using shuffle…the second one? Well, I suppose I could rip the songs and use Audacity to speed them up. But then Stipe would sound like Geddy Lee. I’m not that brave.

  32. Mary Alice Says:

    I like the song, and it’s even better live because it has more energy. Sowwy but I like it! The lyrics are a bit pretentious but I can relate to this song so I don’t mind it so much

  33. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Wow!

    I’m the one, I guess. This is actually one of my faves from Reveal. It reminds me some in tone and sound of 80’s REM almost more than anything they’ve done without Bill (mostly in the guitar – it sort of has that “southern gothic” feel, reminds me of FOTR). However, several of you above nailed the problem with Reveal (besides the McCarthy production) and that is that EVERYTHING is paced right in the middle and never takes off. ATS also has this problem to a lesser degree.

  34. BobMcCow Says:

    Of all REM’s songs, She Just Wants To Be is one of my absolute favourites. I even prefer the album version to the live version.

    Reveal is a too-hot summer album, full of sweltering days and cool nights. The languid attitude suits it perfectly, it’s about sitting by the fan waiting in the scorching heat.

    The phraseology and grammar in She Just Wants To Be may not make for an A+ in an English essay, but the words sound beautiful and interesting. I find the long build up to the bleached out electric guitar chorus quite exciting. The verses are pretty and delicate in describing the situation of the girl; then it cuts into the chorus and it’s full of yearning, sweeping desire.

    I think it’s brilliant, frankly. The guitar work is reminiscent of Neil Young in it’s simplicity and power. The strings add extra texture as the song builds up. Then we leave the situation with the acousitc riff that we came in with – she just wants to be, but the ending implies that her desires are unfulfilled.

    That might be a fairly pretentious reading of it, but I still love it!

  35. Kevin Says:

    Count me among those who think this song (like “Walk Unafraid”) really comes into its own live. I like the album version ok (surely better than drek like “Beachball”), but live it’s something else.

    Speaking of live, footage of last night’s Dublin rehearsal is leaking

  36. Ian A Says:

    The version on Reveal was bad, the live version (Perfect Square DVD) was pretty good. Call me crazy, but I actually liked the guitar solo at the end.

    Like David T said, it’s better in some moods turned up high.


  37. […] music. If only they’d kept going! As it stands, the record takes a turn on “She Just Wants To Be,” and though there’s some quality songs later in the sequence, the tone of the album becomes […]

  38. Tracey Says:

    Come on people! This is one of my favourites. I even came across this page because I googled the song! There’s a lyricism about the story of a woman who downsizes her lifestyle to find herself. I think that’s where Michael’s langour comes in. Listen to it again. It’s worth it.

  39. Jules Says:

    When I read this thread on She Just Wants To Be, I could not believe or understand all the negativity. I think this my favourite REM song of all time – the chorus is so catchy and well layered with a mixture of orchestra and guitars. This is especially the case with the third chorus – turn it up loud and hear all the instruments blending brilliantly. I also love the rolling drum beat that reminds a bit of an Edwyn Collins song from a while back. The extended guitar solo finishes off the song perfectly. OK – so the lyrics are not the best he has written (are the lyrics really that important in a song when the music is so great?) and the verses could be better, but that chorus is fantastic and may not be bettered by them ever,in my humble opinion. It just shows how music tastes differ.

  40. Ann Whyte Says:

    Just wanted to say I LOVE this song! So much so that I use it as my user name in Murmurs

  41. Nathan Says:

    The album version of this song, I admit, never quite gets off the runway, but I love the live version on “Perfect Square.” And, awkward as it may be, there is actually nothing gramatically wrong with “it’s not that the transparency of her earlier incarnations now looked back on weren’t rich and loaded with beautiful vulnerability,” at least not if you insert commas after “incarnations” and “on.”


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