The Lifting

September 24, 2007

Reveal begins with a set of three very different types of ballads done up in spacey, neon-lit drag. It’s simultaneously kitschy and gorgeous, and it brings to mind an older generation’s notion of future modernity. There’s a strange, self-reflexive tension buried in the subtext — R.E.M. were clearly making an effort to modernize their sound, but there’s some kind of admission that they can only go so far, and so they embraced a quaint, dated concept of “futuristic” music. If only they’d kept going! As it stands, the record takes a turn on “She Just Wants To Be,” and though there’s some quality songs later in the sequence, the tone of the album becomes scattered and incoherent.

“The Lifting” starts off with a gentle quasi-psychedelic sweep, but kicks into one of the few truly grand productions of the band’s late period. The song bears some resemblance to “The Great Beyond,” but it follows an eccentric orbit that keeps its chorus from having the same arena-sing-along effect.

The lyrics are relatively straightforward, but it’s easy to lose track of Michael Stipe’s relationship to the main character — Is he a friend of the protagonist? An omniscient narrator? I noticed that the voice of the seminar leader is placed in quotations on the official lyrics sheet, but I rather like the idea of the entire song being sung from that person’s perspective, mainly because even the best advice and observations in the piece suddenly become unreliable and suspicious. Either way, a crucial aspect of the song is that the character being discussed is piecing together the narrative of his life based on other people’s impressions of its events. They try to help and guide the protagonist, but it becomes clear that despite good intentions, they are all making an effort to reinvent this person in their image.


46 Responses to “The Lifting”

  1. NN Says:


    One of my 3 favorites on this Cd along with All the Way… and Imitation of Life.

  2. xman Says:

    i love this song. it’s one of the few on reveal that has some breathing room.
    i heard the protagonist is the same character from daysleeper.

  3. Paul Alferink Says:

    Love this song. Great fit on an underrated album full of optimism, fool hardy or not.

    Best line:
    once you had a dream
    of oceans, and sunken cities;
    memories of things you’ve never known
    and you have never known

    What a great ending to a great opening track for an album full of wonder and hope. Like Brian Wilson’s “Smile”, without the sandbox and the lying in bed, I mean.

  4. Elliot H. Says:

    Just from hearing the first 15 seconds of this song, I knew I liked Reveal.

  5. Kirsten Says:

    Wow, I just read the ‘official lyrics’ posted on the link you have and I’m devistated! I thought the line “you’ve said the air was singing” was only said once (maybe twice off the top of my head). I thought the line the rest of the time was “You said you found the lifting” which is heaps better. Are the words posted correct? Do they not even mention “the lifting”? That was one of my favourite lines. The other outstanding line – “allow yourself to drift and fly away, but you just stay”. This song is typical of how good Reveal is and a reminder that it shouldn’t be so easily overlooked.

  6. Mr Cup Says:

    This song does have a bright, airey feel about it but I don’t trust it.
    Seems the protagonist has a higher calling yet has been swept up in some horribly corporate self-help movement that is us unfulfilling and impeding.
    Or maybe I’m being cynical.

    Nice opener. Though my vote for the worst song they have made would have to be on the b-side. The Lifting-Original Version.
    Glad they reworked it.

  7. Paul Alferink Says:

    I love the over-the-top production on this song. It fits so well, as if every fiber of your being were coming alive and tingling.

  8. protimoi86 Says:

    The demo version of this song has its merits – the intro always makes me think of a baby chick peeking out of its egg and getting sunlight all over it, coming into the world – but the album version is where the song was meant to be. One of the few instances where the fussy production is warranted, I have to agree with Paul.

    although the repeated “never, never….” gets annoying every time.

  9. Kirsten; confusion about the lyrics… The demo version does sing “You said you’ve found the lifting”, but I’m pretty sure it’s not in the album one. Hope this helps.

  10. Mr Cup Says:

    Upon reflection, I was a bit harsh on the demo version. It does sound a bit “Sting” though.

    Just read over at HQ that Bill played drums on “Jesus built my hotrod”. Has anyone heard that before?

  11. 2d Says:

    this is such a beautiful, solar, explosive song… it’s warm and really a morale-booster, and to me it presents a world that is both ordinary and magical at the same time. it’s like a dream world where everything is possible. i wish they’d have released this song as a single, i really believe it would have worked just as well as u2’s “beautiful day”.

    a very good opener. also, i agree that the album loses focus later on. for me, after “saturn return” my interest wanders off.

  12. ADB Says:

    For me, the only track off the last two albums that would feature in my all time REM top 20, maybe even top 10. It has a fantastic, yet subtle, melody – the first few times it passed me by, but then I found I couldn’t get it out of my head. And, as has been noted, the elaborate production really suits the song, improves it even.

    REM were on Later With Jools Holland (a UK music show) to promote Reveal and played this. During their interview, Jools asked Michael what The Lifting was about and he gave a really long, involved answer about how it was a ‘prequel’ to Daysleeper, featuring the same character – a woman – who has lost the ability to dream and is sent away to be cured of her lack of a subconscious. Jools looked a bit bemused, bless him…

  13. Dark Bob Says:

    Reveal is my least favorite REM record, Although there are a few decent songs, the record is tedious and boring to listen to stright through.

  14. ScottMalobisky Says:

    this song to me is ambiguously metaphysical, totally transcendent, takes me away , makes me think about those things–those possibilities– that are so ultimately intriguing; those things that one just doesn’t reflect on enough while slave to the grind , a top tenner for me…A terrific opening track , a hell of an opening track , I really can’t imagine this song anywhere but first on an album . I could imagine the demo version as not an opening track however.

    (never heard that , Mr. Cup)

    LALALALA LALALALA LALALALA LALALALA..just a passenger on this vessel….I am………

  15. joejoe Says:

    Bill was a drummer for, um, how you say, Ministry at one point.

  16. ScottMalobisky Says:

    the glint on the tracers reflecting off the ripple whirl of the chiselled pinwheel–not a specific moment–more like a sensefield of parallel evolving processes expedited on a scan screen.

  17. Ignis Sol Says:

    “The Lifting” has an entrancing vibe musically and lyrically. I love this song’s opening – a swirl of noises and voices that electronically meld and create an alternative sonic atmosphere. Then, it wakes you with the opening lyrics, “Grounded, five a.m., the nightlite….” I have been there and I can relate.

    There is a tinge of mystic nostalgia with the references to the subject reviewing his/her life playing across the ceiling. This is a beautifully haunting image that, in the end, only serves to enlighten the subject. The device of using a seminar and being at some life exploring conference is quite original.

    This version is loaded with creative sonic tidbits. The demo version is understated and less fleshed out (hence a demo). The idea of leaving the actual title “the lifting” out of the final version is inspired and truly a trait of R.E.M.

    When the final verse comes with lush instrumentation, you are hit with the some of the most evocative (and fantastically aquatic) lyrics on Reveal: “Once, you had a dream of oceans, and sunken cities…”

    You all know the rest. Beauty.

  18. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I just gave a few comments on this song on a recent post but unlike many of you The Lifting is not one of my favorite songs from Reveal. When I first got the CD I enjoyed the song but it has lacked staying power for me for reasons I can’t completely put my finger on. However, that said, one problem is the production, which is way too over the top. Secondly, the pacing is bland and boring, especially for an opening track. It is too mid-tempo. I actaully quite prefer the demo version because it is not so slick and because I love the languid pacing. I also think I would like it better if it were faster. When I listen to the album version I keep waiting for it to pick up (to lift?!) and it never does. Its not a terrible song, but neither do I love it. For me about half of Reveal is very good, a quarter very bad, and a quarter listenable, but not powerful, and The Lifting falls into that group for me. I also have always thought that She Just Wants To Be would have been a better opening track witgh its long guitar intro and vaguely classic REM sound, but then you’d have to mess up the tracklisting because I’ve Been High should not follow that song and I like where it is (I even like the way The Lifting flows into I’ve been high – maybe they should have been 2nd and 3rd with SJWTB as the lead track?).

    You may now all rip me…

  19. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Oh, I sort of agree with the above comment that The Lifting could be the equivalent of U2’s Beautiful Day, except this song could not be the hit that Beautiful Day was. Although both as positive and harken back to the band’s “classic” periods to a point, the prodcution of The Lifting was NOT suited to modern pop or alternative radio (at least in the USA) and U2’s song is epic and building is passion and power, while the REM song just moves forward and that is a key difference for success as a radio single. Again, it goes back to my pacing problem in the above post.

    That said, I don’t like Beautiful Day much and I generally like U2, one of my least favorite U2 singles.

  20. “The Lifting” isn’t fast or straightforward enough. “Beautiful Day” worked because every moment of it was engineered to be a huge hit — “The Lifting” is basically the opposite! I mean, “The Lifting” has a character who is a motivational speaker, but “Beautiful Day” actually sounds like the rock version of motivation speaking, along with the rest of that album.

  21. Ignis Sol Says:

    Matthew, I agree with your in-tune assessment of All That You Can’t Leave Behind. It seems that the motivational voice (of a preacher?) is a trademark U2 trait. Regarding production, they always work with the same core production team who, like you say, strive to make every chord, every key as “pop” as possible (not a bad thing). R.E.M., ever the contrarians, pride themselves on crafting subtle music in their own voice and with their own vision however “unpop” or over-reaching it may be (this is a good thing, too).

    There are many similar characteristics between U2 and R.E.M. in overall songwriting, talent and popular scope. There are quite a few songs that each could cover from one another without sounding wrong or inappropriate. It is no surprise that there is a strong friendship between the band members.

  22. Jared Says:

    I like opening tracks that establish the sound of the record, and I think that this (for better or worse) really succeeds in that. Ditto “Leaving New York”. Whether the sound of the record is something you like (I love Reveal, and HATE Around the Sun) isn’t related to this comment.

    REM is pretty good at doing that, setting up the sound of it’s album from the start–with the exception of probably “Airportman”, which I forgive, because a)it’s cool, and B) does such a great job setting up “Lotus”.

    Summing up, even though Reveal has some definite misses, I enjoy it as an album–a lot–for all the same reasons I love “The Lifting”.

  23. Off topic, but have had a terrible evening, sat in the bar at my new University feeling homesick… and then Electrolite started playing! From nowhere, one of R.e.m.’s most obscure singles appears completely out of context and picks me up. I love this band more than life.

  24. Ignis Sol Says:

    Oh yeah, has anyone seen the Chef Mario Batali interview with Michael Stipe from some cable special? In it, Michael says he is upset because he wishes he wrote “Beautiful Day.” (But does Bono ever wishes he wrote “World Leader Pretend” 🙂 )

    In the interview, the Chef and Rock Star are en route to an U2 concert in Toronto. Once they arrive, after a slight delay in the private plane, you can see Michael rocking out off stage to “Beautiful Day.” That part is cool. Then he meets up with a sweaty Bono and the gang.

    I am thinking, HE COULD write that song. He is certainly talented enough, but he knows this and hence the remark. It would not be difficult to make “The Lifting” sound like “Beautiful Day” or even “Ray of Light” for that matter.

  25. milesey Says:

    I agree with Jared about tracks that establish the sound of the record (and spot on re: Airportman setting up Lotus). BUT- I love The Lifting but not Reveal, which remains the only REM album that basically disappoints for me; and I’m not a big fan of Leaving NY but love ATS (I know! I’m sorry! It’s just the way it is…).
    The point where the opening chords/noise coalesce into ‘Grounded… 5am…’ remains a great REM stand-the-hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck-on-end moment.

    Oh yeah- and as my first post here, I’ve got to say- great site, Matthew (I’ve been enjoying it for a while without saying anything). Keep it up…

  26. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Matthew Foster, what university is that ? Hope you didn’t drink too much..I can’t handle alcohol plus REM –I lose total touch with reality, invariably screw up majorly –had to quit one of them , so I did….

  27. Kirsten Says:

    Thanks, Matthew F, that must be where I’m getting confused. I still think “You said you found the lifting” is the better line, I wonder why they left it out of the finish album version…..

  28. jim jos Says:

    some thoughts:
    1. Ironic that Bill played drums for Ministry, and now the Ministry drummer is playing on the new album. Ironic I tell ya.
    2. U2 has always been about the anthem, which is why they make a better choice for rocking a superbowl half time show than R.E.M. I have always given the nod to Stipe in terms of lyrics and top line melody over Bono, but U2 seems to be better suited to be their eras version of the Stones because their sound does fit arenas so well.
    3. The Lifting is one of my favorite songs off of Reveal, good lyrics and, for me, the overblown production works. The Lifting might not be mentioned, but the song itself does provide that.
    4. The idea that it is the prequel to Daysleeper, does make me want to go and reinterpret the song again and make comparisons. It seems like Daysleeper would be the prequel, the isolated night worker, who wakes themselves out of their life. Humph.

  29. maclure Says:

    Milesy – don’t I know you from somewhere?

    Ignis Sol – the clip you mention is on YouTube:

    Good write up and some nice comments here. I was just pondering on this idea of the seminar in the Lifting. (Ignis Sol’s comment is a good one: The device of using a seminar and being at some life exploring conference is quite original). I wonder if you could think of Reveal as the summer half of a double album with UP as the winter half. Both albums explore themes of rising, falling, up, down (I’ve been high vs. Why Not Smile / Summer Turns Too High vs. Daysleeper / The Lifting vs. You’re in the Air) and both allude to academia in surprising ways – the seminar as mention and “the Dragonflies are trying to lecture me” vs. “Everyone hates a Sad Professor” as well as the usual staple REM themes of dreams, sleep and memory. Just some “attendant thoughts”.

  30. Tim Says:

    I honestly really like the demo version better, though I agree it wouldn’t have worked as an opening track. That said, I think the demo version fits well with the “summer” theme of reveal. It has that lush lazy summer day feeling.

  31. Kirsten Says:

    Thanks for that link, Maclure, that was so cool! I have no sound on my computer, but watching Michael jumping up & down and clapping just like me at an REM concert was amazing! He’s so beautiful (sigh…). Made my long day at work highly bearable.

  32. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I prefer the album version because it feels more like one is being actually lifted, in flight (where? to the highest plateaus of lucid reasoning , perhaps) , demo too languid like a lazy innocuous fly ball to right with the bases juiced ….now if the title was different I might fell differently……>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>><<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<the drummer from Ministry ,huh ?……wow , their stuff is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO INTENSE , could be a good sign that this thing will be rocking……….

  33. Kirsten Says:

    The demo sounds like a live acoustic version. I love them both. Michael Stipe…… (sigh…)

  34. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Kirsten , have you ever seen the blue photos of Michael in Q magazine from fall of 2003 ? there’s one where he’s “crying” (staged tears for effect I’m sure but it doesn’t matter)…You would love this photo !… just a full page head shot, eyes wide open looking incredibly sad and vulnerable , grayish stubble and that signature bulbous squiggly vein snaking above his left temple ..face tinted blue with that blue stripe thing across the eyebrows that he was doing about that time. I’ll send it to you if you give me your snail mail address. If you want

  35. Paul Alferink Says:

    It’s interesting that the song is also written in second person. It’s rare. In literature, the only example I can thing of is “Bright Lights, Big City” Mostly because it’s hard to maintain and get annoying for whole novels. But Stipe uses it again and again. (See, “All the way to Reno”)

  36. Kirsten Says:

    Thanks for the offer ScottM, but unfortunately being a woman my brain overrides my hormones (only just) and therefore forbids me to hand out my address over the internet to strangers (please take no offence). Sounds great though. I’m probably getting a bit too old to be drooling over pictures like that, but I can’t help myself! Mood changing from melting (sigh) to slightly horny….

  37. Kirsten Says:

    I’ve just got to say, my favourite possession is a keyring with a gorgeous picture of Michael on one side with his face resting on the palm of his hand, and written on the other side is “IT’S A MICHAEL STIPE THING, YOU WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND!” I love it. The amount of people who see it and say “I don’t understand” – it’s fantastic. I get it. I know you guys get it, so it always makes me smile. I also get a little grin every time I’m typing and hit the 4 key instead of the R…

    Paul, I once read that Michael did that to separate the songs from himself. Stop the media from jumping to conclusions….

  38. Mr Cup Says:

    Oh Kirsten, be-haaaave!

  39. Kirsten Says:

    Sorry, having a bad day at work. Relying on REM to get me through. Thinking of Michael again ..sigh..

  40. Mr Cup Says:

    Have you seen the clips from the new DVD thingy? They have some at stereogum. Looks quite good. I like Stipey in what I call his ‘Green Hornet’ phase.

  41. ADB Says:

    Although I like the line ‘You said you found the lifting’ I’m quite glad they left it off the finished song as it’s the only song on the last 2 albums that doesn’t mention its title somewhere in the lyrics. It’s a silly little thing, but it does indicate the slight loss of mystery that’s occurred in recent years with REM.

    And jim jos, I agree with you, I thought it would make more sense that Daysleeper was the prequel – i.e. that character has some sort of psychic breakdown because of overwork and is sent away to The Lifting’s ‘life conference’ but JMS definitely had it the other way round in this interview. Not that you can take what he says in interviews as gospel of course…

    Oh and does anyone else think we’re due a track or two from Green pretty soon?

  42. Mr Cup Says:

    The guitar lines have been reminding me a bit of “Heroes” by David Bowie. A good thing.

  43. ScottMalobisky Says:

    that’s a really interesting point there , ADB, double checking in my head

    Paul, you got me brushing up on the first person-second person-third person author point of wiew thing , getting that straight in my head

    Kirsten, I understand, gotta beware of the paparazzi and the psycho-killers , quest-que c’est bah bah bah bah… bah bah bah bah bah bah

  44. ScottMalobisky Says:

    yeah , ADB, including I Remember California, my favorite REM song (this week)…….actually I do have about 5 or 6 songs that vie for #1, rotate aut of that spot…..about 25 revolving top tier…..AHHHHHHH , I can feel it , something is controlling my metacarpals , forcing me to list them ,,,,,no , no I won’t , …………….AHHH ………. Oh my , it’s a beautiful day here in San Diego, I think a lot of people would be surprised by how spendidly fall-like SD can be. The leaves do change and there is misty morning dew to hop through.

  45. […] like “Jimmy Webb on Mars,” which is a good, pithy way of describing its sound. Like “The Lifting” and “I’ve Been High” before it, “All The Way To Reno” is a classic […]

  46. R. Kramer Says:

    I think I’ve just discovered that “The Lifting” is a reworked leftover from the sessions Peter Buck did with Eels for their third album Daisies of the Galaxy.

    There’s an instrumental song called “The Bright Side” on the new Eels rarities and B-Sides compilation “Useless Trinkets” that’s written by Buck. It has too much similarities to be a coincidence.

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