Bang and Blame
July 26, 2007
In 1994, “Bang and Blame” was an obvious single mainly because it conformed to the post-Pixies soft-loud-soft dynamic that dominated rock radio. Well, it does and it doesn’t — the chorus is certainly bold and punchy, but most of the song is actually spent in murky verses that amplify the muggy feeling of the corresponding parts of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” to a nearly stifling extreme. Whereas Nirvana’s song is an aggressive tantrum, “Bang and Blame” has a strange limpness that makes it angriest moments err closer to peevishness than rage.
That’s not a complaint, mind you. The song is effective precisely because Michael Stipe sounds so worn down, frustrated, and impotent. He’s trying to be diplomatic with someone who has wronged him, and he’s aware that he’s just setting himself to be a doormat all over again. He’s doing his best to be stern and take control, but there’s a passivity at the core of the character and the song that cannot be shaken. At the end, when he succumbs to his antagonist, it’s not at all an accident that his submission is eroticized.