Leaving New York
September 20, 2007
“Leaving New York” is unquestionably the worst opening track in R.E.M.’s discography, but despite my many misgivings about its content, style and form, it’s still a pretty decent tune. Actually, that may be the most bothersome thing about it — I want very much to dislike it, but I just can’t.
In very basic terms, “Leaving New York” stuffs the rhythmic free-verse style of “Country Feedback” and “E-Bow The Letter” into an Air Supply-esque power ballad. It may well be the single corniest song R.E.M. have ever produced, and frankly I’m a bit puzzled why the same band that makes a point of distancing itself from the goofy yet brilliantly crafted “Shiny Happy People” would not be even more embarrassed by something so syrupy and mawkish.
The words don’t exactly help matters — it may be novel to hear Michael Stipe sing such direct lyrics, but it’s not at all interesting when he alternates between intoning sappy cliches (“it’s easier to leave than to be left behind”) and jaw-dropping clunkers like “leaving was never my proud.” Ultimately the song is saved by a few reasonable hooks and the group’s competent craftsmanship, but all in all, it’s a step too far into unimaginative pathos.