October 31, 2007

I heard R.E.M.’s version of “Strange” long before I ever heard Wire’s original recording on their classic album Pink Flag, and so I was a bit shocked to learn that Wire’s take was half as fast and sorta cartoonishly spooky. I love both versions, but I simply can’t hear the original without feeling like Wire are deliberately fucking with the song, and that its natural state is the perky rave-up found on Document. There’s a real sense that R.E.M. liberated the song from Wire’s pretense, though it’s also clear that the group’s reverence for the original and Wire in general is intense and genuine. They definitely make it their own — Mike Mills’ backing vocals are top-notch whether he’s ghosting the chorus along with Michael Stipe, or chanting “doo-doo, doo-doo” over the chugging riff. The solo on the bridge practically screams “I am being performed by Peter Buck circa the late-80s,” and true to his slightly modified lyrics, Michael sounds nervous, but also goofy, coy, and urgent.

43 Responses to “Strange”

  1. Mr Cup Says:

    Oh i get it now…a ‘covers day’ special.
    Nice one Matthew. I dont associate any of these songs with the original versions. To be honest I wasn’t really that curious.

    Strange and Superman both add that element of goofy/sinister that ends up being quite refreshing. Superficially sinister, ultimately goofy and fun…to me at least.

    This is shake yer head dancetastic!

  2. Mr Cup Says:

    Duh – a halloween special!

    Sorry. South of the equator!

  3. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I’m assuming the “Michael’s nervous ” part isn’t in the original ? My least favorite song on Document, I love it least:) Second song in a few days where-in Michael sings his own name, which also ties into Superman (via Seinfeld) because of Superman the Super Hero’s lofty perch in Seinfeld’s world ; the one episode where that one goofball character always refers to himself by name –doesn’t say “I”, says his name which I forget– and and

  4. Kirsten Says:

    I haven’t heard the original either, but slowing it down to a “creepy” kinda pace sounds like it might be good.

    This version is great, though. Lease favourite from Document Scotty?? I guess it would be hard to chose – it’s a very strong album. Great to dance to, great to sing along to. A lot of fun and I love the “Michael” reference.

  5. Paul Alferink Says:

    Fun. Never heard the original. Probably not on my top five Document tracks.

  6. Paul Alferink Says:

    Are we going to have a day full of tracks were REM gives a writing credit the band and one non-REM member? West of the Fields? Hope?

  7. jim jos Says:

    great 80’s era rave up. Not my favorite on Document, but that is because I like Document so much. Stipe needs to name drop himself at least once in the new songs. “Death is pretty final…I’m collecting vinyl” is not as good as it could be if it was “death is pretty final, Michael’s collecting vinyl”

  8. Dark Bob Says:

    Although it’s a cover song, it seems to fit well into the overall groove of document. I agree that it may be the least favorite on the record, but it just seems to fit in nicely.

  9. milesy Says:

    There was a pastor I know who tried to introduce new forms of worship into his church despite the fact that they were blatantly not Christian- almost pantheist, in fact. The church was in my home town and, as a Christian, I was pretty annoyed about it. His name was Michael. I had recently acquired Document. ‘Michael’s nervous and the lights are bright/ There’s something strange going on tonight’ was definately about him! I played it loud and often, and felt better.

    That’s bizarre, isn’t it?

    All that apart, I don’t think its Document’s weakest track. For me, it has always fit perfectly before ITEOTWAWKI. But then, Document doesn’t really do weak tracks, does it?

  10. Mr Cup Says:


  11. ScottMalobisky Says:

    to me it’s the weakest cuz something has to be the weakest, I love every song on document and I love this one least. the defense rests. no stipulations in yours or my stipology . now if you’ll excuse me I shall go and earn me measly stipend

  12. lenny Says:

    “Strange” is not my least favorite, but it’s far from my favorite on Document. I didn’t know it was a cover, but judging by Matthew’s description of the original, I’m better off not hearing it. REM’s version fits well with the rest of this great album.

    Least favorite on Document? Probably Fireplace. I’d like the song if it didn’t have that lousy saxophone. I take it back — the first time you hear the sax, the solo works OK — it’s just that it needed to end there, instead of assaulting the ears and distracting from the other elements the rest of the way.

  13. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I agree, don’t really like Fireplace. Strange rocks! For some reason I often forget its a cover (even though I know the original). It fits that well on Document.

  14. Kirsten Says:

    It’s easy to forget that it’s a cover ’cause it sounds so much like REM – just like Crazy.

    Least favourite from Document?? Exhuming McCarthy. But only if I have to chose one…..

  15. Mr Cup Says:

    Document is a lovely child and I won’t have it sullied by idle fingers…meet me at the swings!

  16. Mr Cup Says:

    …and remember how Malkamus was villified for having a least favourite song? What have we learned?


  17. Ignis Sol Says:

    There is one song on Document that I don’t really like. Yeah, I said it, MrCup, I said it! The swings? 🙂

    When Matthew reviews that one, I will explain…

  18. Figgy Says:

    This is probably not a good site to tell others of my dirty little secret. What I’m about to say may not be palatable to the readers of this site…

  19. Figgy Says:

    Many years ago I played in an REM covers band. It was a short-lived thing and our motives were pure: we simply wanted to perform a few of our favourite REM
    songs for our enjoyment and for the enjoyment of our REM-liking friends. We only played a few times… usually as an unpaid support act or part of a charity gig line-up.

    Trust me, we never ever ever wanted to make a living out of being an REM covers band or indeed being anything as crass as a professional money-making ‘tribute’ to ANY band (apologies if one of you happens to be the lead singer of Monster or Stipe, I don’t wish to offend).

    Anyway, enough of that! My point is that ‘Strange’ always appeared on our set list and it is a blast to play live. We always tried to time it to coincide with the audience getting drunk, guaranteeing that a bit of a mosh would ensue. ‘Audience’ is too grandiose a word: I am, of course, referring to friends of the band.

  20. Kirsten Says:

    Hey Figgy, what instrument did you play? Which member of REM where you? I hope it wasn’t vocals – that Irish-New Zealand accent singing Southern USA rock may not sound overly favourable!

  21. Figgy Says:

    Hi Kirsten. I played bass. I know, I know! A real hard act to follow. Mills is a great bass player and I wasn’t, but learning some of his basslines really helped me improve. I didn’t handle any vocals – in fact the vocals mainly came from the lead singer (who did a great job it must be said) so we didn’t have those brilliant REM harmonies going on. We picked songs that we could handle within our limitations and managed to sound pretty good.

    None of us made any attempt whatsoever to look or act like REM (your question “which member…were you?” made me laugh, as if you’d expect me to sport the big pair of specs and pudding bowl haircut Millsy had at the time!). As I said, it was all about having a good night with friends out and enjoying the songs. A geniune tribute.

  22. Figgy Says:

    My other dirty secret is that my least favourite track on ‘Document’ is the one with the words “I feel fine” in the chorus. Shocking, eh? But it’s the one song I do occasionally skip past.

    Having said that, ‘Document’ is a special album to me: the first REM album I ever heard and quite possibly my all-time favourite (depending on what I’m in the mood to hear). As others have said, there really isn’t a weak song on it.

    I’ll still fight on Mr Cup’s side in the battle at the swings.

  23. Kirsten Says:

    I think that may be the same dirty little secret as Ignis…

    Mills is and increadably hard act to copy – look at how many different things he does. Very, very talented man.

    I think I’d be happy to hear an REM cover band, but I suppose they’d have to be of a certain standard ’cause I’d hate to hear my favourites butchered! But, who am I to speak? I’m always playing and singing their songs – or should that be murdering their songs?? Don’t think anyone would ever pay me to do so. 🙂

  24. Ignis Sol Says:

    Nah, my dirty little secret song has the word “fire” in it. That narrows it down!

  25. Mr Cup Says:

    Mildly on the subject…any band that has been described as sounding like REM (any 4 piece band in the 90’s basically) was always a let down to me. It seemed to be a journalistic device to describe something they couldn’t be bothered describing. So they ‘sound’ like REM. None of them ever did. After a while I learned (‘cos I’m real smart) to expect the worst and I was seldom disappointed from then on.

    Seriously…who could sound like r.e.m.?

  26. Mr Cup Says:

    ..other than your band Figgy.

  27. Kirsten Says:

    Not really.

    Welcome to the Occupation, ITEOTWAWKI, One I Love, Fireplace, Oddfellows Local 151 and even Exhuming McCarthy (doesn’t have fire, but does have some “book burning”)

    It’s not called “File Under Fire” for nothing!!

  28. Mr Cup Says:


  29. Ignis Sol Says:

    Well, then – you see that DID narrow it down! I will ‘fess up. It’s “Oddfellows Local 151.” I will explain why when it gets reviewed.

  30. Kirsten Says:

    What??? I LOVE that one!!!

    We’ll argue about it when it comes up! Then I’ll have to meet YOU by Mr Cup’s Swings!

  31. Mr Cup Says:

    I’m gonna set up a lemonade stall there. It could get ugly. We’ll need refreshments.

  32. milesy Says:

    When the conversation turned to least favourites on Document, I feared that sooner or later someone would diss Oddfellows. I’ll be waiting at the swings Ignis Sol. Mr Cup, will your stall be selling jelly beans and cheesecake?

  33. lenny Says:

    Wait a minute — I can handle a diss on Oddfellows, Fireplace, or even Strange — but above all, Kirsten better be waiting by the swings for saying that her least favorite was Exhuming McCarthy! I can’t believe no one caught that — and it was 19 comments ago. That’s in my all time top 5 or 10 songs, period.

    [But, Kirsten, I’ll let you off the hook (or swing) because you said “only if i have to choose one”.]

  34. Paul Alferink Says:

    I agree with Ingis.

  35. 2d Says:

    am i the only one who just wants to use the swings for… uhm, swinging? hope the bloodshed won’t spoil that soaring feeling the one on the far right always gives me. that one is the best!

  36. Ignis Sol Says:

    Hey Kirsten…”Exhuming McCarthy” Thanks, Lenny for that reminder…

    And Paul A. thanks for standing with me on my side of
    the playground!

    My dis of “Oddfellows” will be clear once it comes up and it will make sense. I promise.

    Meanwhile, I am always up for a good row in the dirt.

  37. Jared B. Says:

    I know exactly what you mean, Matthew. I heard the Wire version long after wearing out Document…but I still really, really, love the Wire version. It is hard to remind yourself it’s the original though.
    An earlier commenter is right about chaning the Joey’s nervous bit to Michael’s nervous. Also, if memory serves, R.E.M. doesn’t do the “freeze frame, freeze frame” bit i love so much in the original.
    Keep up the good work,

  38. Kirsten Says:

    Since we’re having a party, someone had better bring a stereo with the world’s biggest speakers – and a ton of REM CDs!!!! I hear Perth is nice this time of year…

  39. Mr Cup Says:

    …and one of those little paddle pools! It is warming up nicely.

  40. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I may have to start preparing my Oddfellows defense now.
    Would that be against the spirit of this blog, to work on a song as yet to be posted as if it’s some sort of term paper or something? May have to hire a team of legal experts to successfully shoot down The Vibe Of The Upcoming And Inevitable Disses that I’m picking up here …It will be interesting to see how MP feels about that one, which way he initially rolls the ball……..

  41. ScottMalobisky Says:

    you always make sense , Ignis, your clarification of the Lightnin’ Hopkins camera/film references–that I did not see at all — was brilliant, one of the most informative and shining moments of this blog in general for me 🙂

  42. gluefoot Says:

    best wire cover version: my bloody valentine’s “map ref..”
    not this i’m afraid

  43. themanbeyond Says:

    A perfect example of how R.E.M. can make a cover ‘all their own’. I don’t see how anyone (any R.E.M. fan for that matter) can not like this version; it’s straight-ahead rock as far as I’m concerned; I like the power chords at least. Plus it’s easy to play. (Kind of a George Harrison gtr solo on it; a little less easy to play.)

    And, yes, I’ve heard the original by Wire. I like it on its own merits. The usual ‘apples and oranges’ apply here.

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