You’re In The Air

August 1, 2007

The arrangement of “You’re In The Air” is constantly shifting focus, leaving the impression that its instrumental elements are lifting, sinking, or passing through each other as if they were intangible. The one point of consistent emphasis is Michael Stipe’s voice, which itself is quietly shifting between emotions without ever expressing a single, intense, uncomplicated feeling. Every thought and every emotion in the song is burdened with history and conflicted desires, and so even when he sounds as though he’s found some sort of clarity or control, his words seem punctuated by a row of question marks. Stipe’s words mainly draw on the automatic romance of the stars and the elements, but the most stunning moment in the song comes when he cuts straight to the heart of the matter, singing “you say you want me” like a question, a challenge, and a reminder to both himself and his lover.


36 Responses to “You’re In The Air”

  1. Evan Says:

    One thing that’s interested me a lot about “Up” are the various references to height, falling, flying, being high, etc., from the album title to “Falls to Climb” to “Why Not Smile” to (especially) this song. One thought: is Stipe experimenting with the word “up” as some kind of substitution for the word “out”?

  2. wolfy Says:

    UP is a reminder of a time when I was going to through a transition that defied words-this is one of my favourite songs on UP for that reason.

  3. blursongs Says:

    This is one of my favourite R.E.M. songs. The line, “But there it is, you say you want me” kills me… The character in the song sounds ecstatic and frightened to death at the same time.

  4. maclure Says:

    Good point Evan, I love the themes of UP. This was the stand out track for me when I started listening to the album. I played it on loop, possibly too much. The picked acoustic guitar that comes in the latter half of the song is just such a lovely and simple addition and a distinctive motif for the track…

  5. David T. Says:

    A lot of sonic information on this one…like much of UP, a fab headphone track.

    I like Matthew’s observation of the constant shift of musical focus…the first few times I listened to UP, this was perhaps my least favorite song, probably because I couldn’t find something “solid” to latch onto, but now it’s one of my very favorites. I especially love the brief moment of (seeming) clarity that the simple acoustic guitar riff provides right after “I am breathing you,” before the song returns to the ether.

  6. Paul Alferink Says:

    Wow. Not a fan of this song. Not really a fan of Up. I think they apologize for it now. All the bands comments are kind of backhanded complements.
    “It’s a really good album considering what we were going through.” -P. Buck
    This song kind of meanders. The “You Say you want me” line is really the only moment in the song worthwhile, and then it gets followed by the meandering chorus, which lacks any sort of punch or catchiness. Say what you will about I’ll Take the Rain, at least that song had a chorus worth singing. . .

    Is it bad that I like Zach Braff. . .

  7. ScottMalobisky Says:

    yeah , this is a great headphone track indeed
    and I love the acoustic guitar too,maclure, very moving …
    the constant shift of the music gives one a feeling of being “in the air ” like a leaf floating on the breezes, a fluttering almost to the ground only to be picked up gently again , and back up into the air..
    my favorite part of the lyrics is , “I want the stars to know they’ve won..” (same reason as me Lightning Hopkins rant but just imagine me whispering it in your ear, like a secret,as opposed to screaming it at the top of my lungs:)
    I wish I was more technically proficient –I mean–what exactly creates that sound , going back and forth at the foundation of the song?..Is that some sort of keyboard/synth combo? I imagine Mills sitting at a console turning knobs , waves of varying amplitudes and frequency on a big overhead screen, changing colors while moving back and forth providing a visual interpretion of the music ; maybe I’m just nuts..

  8. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Paul, I respectfully totally disagree….The whole point of this song, it’s emotional intent (I suppose , I wasn’t there) is to create a feeling of drifting in almost a dreamstate , a place without sharp edges or corners or “punchy catchiness” , I happen to think that the band knew exactly what they were trying to get at here and I think they did a hell of a job personally…this song would probably be extra good if one was nodding off on heroin although I wouldn’t know, so much of this lp is like a gauzey morphine dream; maybe I’m just nuts..

  9. ScottMalobisky Says:

    gossamer and veiled
    chrysalis and flail

  10. David T. Says:

    > the constant shift of the music gives one a feeling of being β€œin the air ” like a leaf floating on the breezes, a fluttering almost to the ground only to be picked up gently again , and back up into the air..

    Well put!

    Just curious…has anyone read whether the band composed the music for this song first, allowing Michael to be inspired by the “in the air” feeling it evokes when writing his lyric? Or did Michael have the lyric idea first, and thus the band subsequently tried to evoke it in the music?

    (I guess it’s just as likely that, whoever had the initial seed for the song, the others played off the idea back and forth in reaching the end product. But I wondered if anyone in the band had ever talked about the songwriting process for this one…)

  11. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Upon further review, this song is FLAT-OUT BRILLIANT.PERIOD….(when Stipe sings “wanted a challenge” I get the impression that he’s almost bored and that he means in terms of trying to seduce someone who happens to be in the one percent of people in the world who would be a “challenge” for him to seduce, –I don’t necessarily mean sexually here–like when you get bored with your job or our life and you want a challenge..)

  12. jim jos Says:

    I always thought UP had Stipe’s most personal lyrics of any REM cd. I have read that he was going through a severe depression during the recording and, under that context, Up makes the most sense, viewed from the eyes of a depressed and unhappy individual.

    There is almost this unbearable self-loathing and sadness from song to song, just after he sings “I hate where I wound up” on the previous song, here he’s upside down, and sounds very conflicted about all that’s happening.

    “I want the stars to know they won” to me, is a symbol of fate. To have something written in the stars. Then he adds “if only to beguile” as though he can trick the stars because he alone makes up the rules of his life.
    Then he states the stars have won a second time, because when he sees the smile he his lost again, things are out of his hands.

    The lover is in the air. Up. High. All these images of being lifted, what a wish when your at your lowest.
    Airportmen, Daysleepers, caged parakeets, sad professors. Up breathes best at 3am. UP is so good BECAUSE what they were going through. It’s strengths lie in its awkwardness and discord.

  13. Says:

    Hi All,

    maybe Up is the album peter loves less and maybe it’s not rock…but it’s maybe their best work, imho.
    I listened it for a year, at night, loud in the headphones. and still i listen at it when i have to focus myself, to re-set myself.

    You are in the air is one of the best tune of Up.
    We can discuss about if that line means this or that but everyline is like the air: you can breath it but it smells different (and talks different) to any of us


  14. Beautiful melody and dynamics, certainly one of the best songs on Up and one of my favorite R.E.M. songs period.

  15. Paul Alferink Says:

    As a side, I was driving to lunch today when “Shiny Happy People” came on the radio. What is it about hearing an REM song come on the radio that makes it so much better then simply putting in the CD and listening to it? Is it the pleasant surprise? Is it the validation of our musical taste from an outside source, ie WOW! Someone at the radio station likes this song, too!

    A great quote from the movie “Shadowlands” “We read to know that we are not alone.” Is it that when we hear it on the radio, there is a connection that someone else in the world likes the song enough to want to hear it?

    Anyway, one of the best feelings in the world, somewhere below sex but above Ice Cream, is the feeling one gets when REM gets played on the radio.

  16. Paul Alferink Says:

    I should add that sex and ice cream tops it, but REM on the radio, sex and Ice Cream is pretty much more then you have a right to expect in one day.

  17. Ignis Sol Says:

    mmm, ice cream.

    mmm, sex.

    I was inspired to listen to “You’re in the Air” after seeing it here. I listened as I was walking to work and then “You’re the One for Me Fatty” came on my iPod. I decided to listen to all of UP instead.

    What a glorious album. Yes, indeed, it is a great earphones album. It is so lush. The sound is mesmerizing and intoxicating. Only R.E.M. can take us on a musical journey like this. This tune exemplifies something special for me. It connects me to a special time and place. As time flies by, I only gain more appreciation for their creativity, nerve and originality.

    I only got through part of “Sad Professor” as I was lifting up higher (in the elevator). Even though the elevator music was playing, the young professional guy next to me could clearly hear the strains of “Sad Professor” from the earphones now dangling against my chest. He smiled and nodded hello. Was he joining me on this strange sonic journey?

    As the elevator moved floor to floor, I could feel its motion changing me physically. My stomach was queasy, my head was light, my senses in a disarray. And I got it. I got it.

  18. maclure Says:

    I always thought the layers of instrumentation ultimately bogged this song down, but I see from MP’s comments and some of you others that this correlates with the lyrical content+JMS mood at the time, etc. Good call all of you!

    Re Paul Alferink. What you describe is the same sensation when you visit somebody’s house for the first time and find they have some of the same books as you on their shelves. Instead of picking up the dozens of others you’ve never read, you aimlessly read the blurb on the back for the one you have… like you don’t know it already. I also get a bizarre kick out of having my fascination with REM validated by radio/TV/whatever. I think it’s probably an unnecessary joy – I shouldn’t need external validation for my taste.

    On that note, one bizarre true story: was once in a lesser known north African country, two-thirds of which is in the Sahara and I bought a souvenir from a street seller there. He wrapped it in newspaper. On the newspaper were old TV listings, I think probably from a different country, and there plum in the middle was a picture of REM circa. NAIHF. Some cable channel was showing a documentary about them. So, in the place you would least likely find a picture of REM in the world, they existed there too, as wrapping paper. As you can imagine, I was thrilled to bits.

    Two surreal stories in one day from me, I shall stop there.

  19. maclure Says:

    any thoughts on why this song is in the middle of the album? It feels like it should come later…

  20. Well, I think it’s a pretty obvious middle song, at least in terms of cd/playlist logic. The song is a little bit shapeless, so near the end it would drag a bit, especially if it was one of the last few songs — it wouldn’t allow for a sense of drama or closure then. But in the middle, it serves as a bridge between acts/movements, and is kind of a breather before the dense, intense “Walk Unafraid.”

  21. ScottMalobisky Says:

    to think that there are still 6–count’em , 6–GREAT, interesting songs on this album not yet covered, and the other couple ain’t so bad either…

  22. jim jos Says:

    You seem to share the love for up that I do! I don’t think its my favorite album, but its the one that I identify most with and I think its tragically underrated and will always be so easy to write off.
    Just hope that doesn’t make us BOTH self doubting, depressed, alienated nut cases.

  23. Kirsten Says:

    Well, I don’t really have much to say, ’cause Scott M stole my thunder on EVERYTHING. I’ll have to start getting up at 3am to beat everyone else.
    The way the music makes you feel like you are floating in the air, the plucky acoustic guitar parts and even my favourite line from the song “I want the stars to know they’ve won”. The other part that really stands out for me is the harmonies on “if only to beguile”.

  24. Kirsten Says:

    Also, on the REM on the radio topic; I always feel a sense of pride. As if the song belonged to me and for a moment I will allow others to enjoy it. Like my little secret is out. Almost as if I were responsible for the songs creation….

  25. Ignis Sol Says:

    According to REMHQ, the boys are heading back to States to finish recording the new album in the fall. Which means Peter Buck will be back in Seattle! πŸ˜‰

    Kirsten, I will write a song for you and then, for sure, you will be responsible for it. πŸ™‚ I do know what you are saying about how they (after millions and millions of albums sold) are still “our” secret.

    I will write one for Matthew, too!

  26. Kirsten Says:

    Hey Ignis, let us know if you catch a sighting! And don’t forget to play him your song πŸ™‚

  27. Kirsten Says:

    Have a drink, then lie down flat on the floor with your arms & legs spread out, close your eyes and turn it up. It will take you someplace else. A great way to experience this song (and a few others).

  28. 2fs Says:

    I really love this song. That melody on the chorus, and something about the strings part…just beautiful. I was, hearing about Berry’s departure, very skeptical about what the album that eventually turned into _Up_ would sound like. I was a bit surprised…but pleased that, first, they hadn’t retreated to familiarity (j* by numbers, say) and, second, that they’d created a very affecting, powerful work. Which is why I was all the more disappointed by the droning, obvious, poorly sequenced _Reveal_ and the half-assed _Around the Sun_. I haven’t completely given up on the band – I have hopes that Buck’s talk of the new one being more “rock,” and the video clips of lives shows on YouTube, mean that it will have more energy than the last two.

  29. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Interesting, I generally really like Up but I am with Paul that this song never really does naything for me. I get it, I even agree that the song has a shifting, drifting, almost lost quality too it, I just don’t think that lyrically or musically it is all that interesting. I think it does what the band intended it to do, but just because it achieved its purpose doesn;t really mean it is good. Always felt it was too long and bogged down (along with Sad Professor) the middle of the album.

    By the way Ignis, I love Morrissey! Just went and saw him again recently and it was a very good show! Now “You’re The One For Me, Fatty” is stuck in my head.

  30. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Tori Amos got a 40 second ditty on American Doll Posse called Fat Slut

  31. ScottMalobisky Says:

    also dig, “I want you naked , I want you wild.”
    and , “I hate to admit it but that’s my reference point.”..I guess you’re all as technically ignorant as I since no one speculated on my question of instrumentation above..Might be the same “instrument” right at the end of The Great Beyond after the last word is sung …that , I can’t type the sound here, don’t know how to translate it into letters, one can just imagine a knob or two being turned –what is that ,a mellotron? One of my tip top moments in the canon (as Mr. Cup would say..),that , like your whole life flashes in front of you, and you feel something very deep inside in those brief seconds after the words end .Very profound (for me anyway but I’m kinda weird)

  32. Mr Cup Says:

    I feel something very deep inside in those briefs…

  33. ScottMalobisky Says:

    just to clarify that slab of inarticulation there , I’m talking about the end of TGB not YITA, just sends waves of regret and waves of joy down my glossopharyngeal nerve……… and into my brachial plexus, then straight to the pit of my stomach, profound.

  34. Mary Alice Says:

    I love this song πŸ™‚ Everyone has spoken so eloquently so I sound not so eloquent in saying it is a SEXY song -REM’s sexiest. I mean c’mon that Spanishy guitar part – and then “I want you naked I want you wild?” And both in the same song – either by themselves would have been sexy πŸ™‚

    I like Matthews’ point about the singers uncertainty, and jim jos’ about him being depressed. Maybe they go together – maybe he’s uncertain BECAUSE he’s depressed – like “I don’t know if I want this so much and it’s making me so happy only because I’m depressed and need it – need the distraction from my depression, need the validation of another because I’m feeling like crap.” It’s always a tricky situation loving someone when you’re down, no one hopes to be depressed forever and then how will the relationship change when you get better?

  35. zozoe Says:

    Mary Alice got it – its their sexiest song, i’m not aloud to listen to it anymore πŸ™‚

  36. Chris Says:

    β€œI want you naked I want you wild?”

    How many Cohen rips are on this album, anyways?

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