Boy In The Well
October 17, 2007
“Boy In The Well” doesn’t seem entirely out of place on Around The Sun, but it’s hard for me to get away from the impression that it’s essentially a New Adventures In Hi-Fi song that was written about seven years too late to make the cut for that album. Stark acoustic strumming? Check. Strict verse-chorus-verse structure with a particularly soaring chorus? Check. Slight appropriation of southern rock style? Check. A sense of place, but also movement away from that location? Check. In terms of structure, it’s nearly identical to “Binky The Doormat,” and its tone is like a cross between “So Fast, So Numb” and “E-Bow The Letter.” It’s not a retread or a retreat, but it’s certainly an example of the band exploring a rather distinct style that they developed for one album, and then more or less abandoned.
“Boy In The Well” is another twist on the “Michael Stipe pep talk” sub-category of R.E.M. songs — instead of giving or receiving advice, the character in the song is following through, and getting out of a bad, dead-end situation and taking the initiative to pursue a new direction in his life with the support of his “new friends.” That support system is really key to the emotional content of the song — it’s a bit thrilling in the way that new possibilities and connections always are, but it’s also a comment on just how much the people from his past have failed him, or pressured him to bury his identity in order to gain acceptance. The verses play out like grim flashbacks, but the choruses are filled with the hope and excitement of discovering a way out, and a path to freedom.