October 31, 2007

“Superman” doesn’t quite qualify as a bonus track, but it’s not exactly the proper conclusion of Lifes Rich Pageant. Coming on after a brief period of silence after the somber “Swan Swan H,” the cheery tune serves as an encore of sorts for the record. Though R.E.M. made a habit of significantly altering the tone of many of the songs they covered in the ’80s, “Superman” is rather faithful to the original studio recording by the Clique. This is most likely due to the incredible obscurity of the source material, but also probably because there’s really not a lot to fix. The song is perfectly formed, and any shift in tone would disrupt the irony of a perky song about a creepy guy who wishes that he had the powers of Superman so that he could more effectively stalk a girl. Though Michael Stipe appears on the track, Mike Mills’ voice dominates the recording, and he sells both the meekness and the sinister edge of the song’s character without tipping too far in either direction.

17 Responses to “Superman”

  1. pgwp Says:

    I was just listening to this song this morning. I love it. I miss Mike Mills’s voice. Seems like he hasn’t had much presence on the last two or three albums.

  2. adam Says:

    again, the kind of fun REM doesnt put on vinyl anymore. It worked back then to have this on there.. and used to be a lot of fun live too. 45 single had cool artwork as well. yes, this was also a single.

  3. Kirsten Says:

    I agree with both of the above. I don’t think this song would’ve been as good with Michael on lead – it just suits Mike’s voice better. Having said that, I almost always sing along to Michael’s backing vocals, not Mike’s lead.

    A lot of fun. More of these please!

  4. Mr Cup Says:

    I haven’t heard the original and don’t really want to anymore. A friend has the 7″ which I covet.

    Fun, nasty fun. You leave this album wanting more and it’s oh so easy to hit the play button and do it all over.

  5. ScottMalobisky Says:

    ..I think of The Who, “I can see for miles and miles and miles ” lyric with this song –same thematic concept. I like this one but I prefer the Kinks Superman, different song, different animal entirely.

    Did anybody see Slash on David Letterman last night ?

  6. Paul Alferink Says:

    I love this song. I suck at guitar, but the bridge is easy and fun to play.

    It’s kind of makes you wish that maybe the did an EP of all Mike Mills fronted songs. Would it be as good as an REM disc? No. But he handles the songs well and his voice lends itself perfectly to fun songs like this.

    Maybe they should do a piss take album full of pop rock songs, like a Hindu Love Gods minus Warren Zevon (RIP). As flawed as that album was, you can’t say it wasn’t fun and a good listen. Not bad for one days work.

  7. jim jos Says:

    what a fun song! I loved it when they put it in the Simpsons as well. Mills owns this, does anyone feel that leaving it off of I feel Fine makes the otherwise sublime best of slightly lacking? It would be good if this were on it, but then which song would go. Oh, and I miss Harborcoat as well. But that is still one of my sure bets for a cd that I would take with me to a desert island.

    Having R.e.m. without Superman and King of the Road, those fun R.E.M. pure enjoyable moments doesn’t feel right.

  8. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Man, I wish I had written this. Pure. Pop. Genius.

    Apparently REM felt the same way. I like Mike Mills voice on record and he sells this song perfectly. However, his version of Rockville on the new REM live leaves something to be desired.

  9. Dark Bob Says:

    I’ve always thought this song should have been used as a bonus track on a single and not as a closing song. None the less, LRP is an excellent album. I’ve always wondered what a Mike Mills solo album would be like.

  10. milesy Says:

    Thinking of ‘Superman’ just brings a smile to my face- it’s just great, uplifting fun, however creepy the lyric may be.

    In 1989 when I had just started as an undergrad, a guy who lived on my corridor decided my musical tastes needed improving (he was right)- and gave me a tape with Murmur on one side and Pageant on the other. Needless to say my taste improved rapidly and an obsession was born. There was a bit of space on the ends of the tape, so he added a couple of extras from Dead Letter Office. I still can’t hear the ending to Superman without anticipating Voice of Harold; or of West of the Fields without expecting Crazy…

    In 1991 I was stressed about exams. The last thing I did before leaving my room to head for each exam was play ‘Superman’ at full blast. I knew what was happening!

  11. Ignis Sol Says:

    Mike Mills’ voice is so high, mellow and thin that it almost doesn’t exist. And that is a compliment. “Superman” is a tasty treat (my odd reference to the great Robyn Hitchcock song of the same name).

    His vocals are like a light & fluffy cream on top of a mocha. Michael Stipe would be the two-shots of espresso.

  12. Martin Says:

    You’re right.. His voice is really fragile.. My fav is Texarkana 🙂

  13. ADB Says:

    Aw, in the rush of Halloween cover version reviews, poor old Superman seems to have been a bit neglected… shame, as it might even be my favourite REM cover version. I own the 7-inch too – I’ve played it once or twice when I’ve been DJ-ing at parties, and it always seems to go down well.

    My other Superman story is from a few years back when myself and some friends ended a pub crawl in a dodgy Irish bar in Tooting, here in London. We were playing some pool when a drunk guy in a t-shirt with the Superman symbol on it approached us, being a bit of a dick and trying to start an argument. One of my friends said ‘What’s your problem, Superman?’ and me and another friend, in an effort to lighten the mood, launched into a loud chorus of ‘I am, I am Superman’ (it was the end of a long night…). Anyway, drunk guy turned to us and after a moment’s pause, joined in just as loudly and just as tunelessly. By the time we got to the end of the song, we were all the best of buddies – I think we even bought him another beer. The healing, pacifying power of REM, y’see…!

    Oh and I only just found out a couple of months ago that the voice at the beginning is from one of the toy dinosaurs that the guys always have on stage with them. So there you go.

  14. Paul Alferink Says:

    The voice is from a Godzilla toy. My Japanese roommate in college said it said, in Japanese, something like “Godzilla is attacking the city. The police defense forces are powerless. He’s coming this way! AHHHH!”

    But that was 10 years ago. And his English wasn’t the best. Although he was the mack daddy. His First night in America, I wake up, and go to put on my robe when I notice that he and this chick are sleeping in his bed, at least partially unclothed. Three things:

    They were quiet.
    That particular chick never spent the night again.
    More often than not, when I saw him, it was him and his friend and 8 or 9 women. Kazuo, where ever you are, you will always be my hero!

  15. Chris Oliver Says:

    I don’t think of it as a “bonus track” at all. In fact, when I list my, oh, let’s say top 5 REM songs, I always include “Swan Swan H/Superman”. I think of them as one song. “Swan” would probably make the list anyway, but the two songs together add up to more than the sum of their parts.

    When I saw them on the Pageant tour, Michael was doing this move of lifting his arms up into “Superman flying position” everytime he sang the chorus part, and some of the people in the front row started immitating him. I guess this made him uncomfortable (the conformist audience/fascist rockstar idea?), so he started only lifting one arm, like a Nazi salute, to see (I guess) if they’d do that, too.

  16. Angela Says:

    Love this cover! I flash back to my high school days when I hear it, because a couple of guys would come into the door of one of the classrooms singing this song at the top of their voices.

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