June 21, 2007
The eleventh untitled track on Green is one of R.E.M.’s finest moments; a song in which half of the group wobbles slightly in unfamiliar roles, while the other plays to their greatest strengths. Peter Buck and Bill Berry’s instrument swap is key — Buck’s beat holds steady but seems hesitant and unsure, neatly echoing the sentiment of the piece while Berry’s hopeful guitar part lingers in the background of the mix. Their rhythm holds the song together, but the focus is placed squarely on the vocals. Michael Stipe’s lead performance ranks among his most emotive and soulful, while Mike Mills follows behind him with a sweet, simple harmony.
It’s essentially a song about missing someone while on tour, but the words are so careful and specific that it’s far more effective than the vast majority of tunes with similar themes. The lyrics are fixated on taking comfort in the sound of another person’s voice, whether it’s Michael making long distance calls to the people he loves (and making a list of things to say because he hasn’t much time on the line), the audience staying up late to hear him sing, or his loved ones finding strength in a song written for them. The music overflows with humility, generosity, and a genuine affection that applies to every kind of love. The world may seem “big and so awake,” but the love expressed in this song is far greater.