September 10, 2007
Have you ever imagined doing something terrible, and then following the thought through to its logical — or illogical — conclusion, i.e. a scenario in which you’re trapped, ruined, and helpless? It’s dramatic and hysterical, and as much as you talk yourself out of ever finding yourself in that situation, it seems just a bit seductive, in as much as it is extraordinarily eventful and romantic, and ordinary life is…usually not. You can take “Diminished” at face value, but given that Michael Stipe made a point of casting a famous singer as the defendant in his miniature legal drama, it’s more interesting to think of the song as being an elaborate persecution fantasy. His character is antsy, bouncing from one idea to the next and back again, but never straying from his focus on himself, and his fate. Despite the fact that someone close to the singer has died, he never exhibits much in the way of guilt — he’s too busy declaring his innocence and plotting ways to play the legal system and beat his charges. Despite the fact that Up includes a few songs that portray damaged, twisted characters in a deeply unflattering light, the alleged murderer of “Diminished” seems rather sympathetic thanks to Stipe’s soft, low-key vocal performance and the piece’s subtle, melancholy arrangement, which makes a lot of sense if you consider that this sort of dark fantasy is more likely to end in self-pity rather than condemnation.