October 23, 2007
Most of the lyrics in “Sitting Still” are either incoherent or extremely inscrutable, but two lines ring out with the utmost clarity: “I can hear,” and “Can you hear me?” At its core, the song is expressing an anxiety about communication that carries over to next track on the album, “9-9.” Michael Stipe makes a point of noting that he’s aware that the person he’s addressing is capable of reading and hearing, but he’s afraid that he’s not being understood. If you fast-forward eight years, a similar dilemma comes up in “Losing My Religion,” though that song offers more in the way of context. “Sitting Still” sounds fantastic (thanks in large part to Peter Buck’s crisp arpeggios and Mike Mills and Bill Berry’s typically clever harmony vocals), but aside from a few key lines and its chorus, the lyrics give very little away, and largely convey a sense of hearing someone without understanding them at all. I like to think that effect was deliberate, but really, it’s just as well either way.