November 4, 2007

One of Bill Berry’s final major contributions to the R.E.M. catalog was the instrumental basis for “Leave,” the epic centerpiece of New Adventures In Hi-Fi. The title and lyrics seem prescient  in retrospect, but since it’s very unlikely that Berry had much to do with either, it’s best not to read too much into that. Though the finished product is certainly a group effort, Berry dominates the track with an urgent, thundering percussion track that holds together a song that rocks back and forth between emotional extremes. The incessant car-siren synthesizer effect that carries through the entire main body of the piece is perhaps the boldest, least orthodox, and most potentially aggravating musical element on any R.E.M. album, but it’s extremely effective in conveying a sense of constant panic, even as the song shifts into a chorus that promises escape and relief. Without that consistent, nagging paranoia, the  emotional release may have seemed too easy, but even when it’s buried beneath crunching chords and Michael Stipe’s soaring vocals, the siren is there to remind us that our protagonist hasn’t actually left anything just yet.

If you were wondering, I only have two words to describe the alternate version that can be found on the bonus disc of the In Time compilation: Failed experiment. No, wait, here’s two more: Ruined song. If you don’t understand my point of view on this matter, please read the first paragraph again.


56 Responses to “Leave”

  1. Flandall Says:

    Well said. When I first heard that siren, I was blown away/appalled. This is not a song from Reckoning. But once I got over a bit of surprise, I loved it. It IS the centerpiece of the album, indeed the siren loudly proclaims it so. The lyrics are also emblematic of the general theme of the album, to me. Well said all around.

    Yes, it’s been said approximately 2,027,236 times already, but I miss Bill in the band. There, #2,027,237,

  2. Jerad Says:

    How timely…I’m in the process of trying out a “Leave” remix when I have time to kill on airplanes. I’ve been pulling together parts of the original, the alternate version, and some big drums from Pulp’s “This is Hardcore” (sorry, Bill). This really has to be one of the band’s most underrated songs. I wish that they’d play it live more often!

    And didn’t Bill also play the acoustic guitar in that intro part?

  3. maclure Says:

    I was blown away by this track and I think others were too… I heard it played on Radio 1 in the UK in its entirety several times when the album came out. The siren is somehow always present but never truly annoying. It serves it’s purpose well, as MP pointed out.

    One of my friends didn’t realise until several years after the album came out that the mellow opening is the same chords/tune which is then picked up in the siren-blaring, overdrived body of the song… I love the contrast, a real calm before the storm moment.

  4. maclure Says:

    I’ll say it again, I miss Bill in the band… 2,027,238.

  5. ScottMalobisky Says:

    yeah , MP, and the strangest thing about the Leave on In TIme —if I recall correctly PB’s notes–was that Stipe was always dissatisfied with the vocal , so therefore , we get… this ?? (the In Time alternate). I don’t get it….I remember playing this on the jukebox at a favorite watering hole and thinking I was so cool.

  6. xman Says:

    this song is crazy great. love the synth attack. peter does some mighty fine work with his e-bow on this one too.

    that remix sux. it’s so fake sounding. it’s like a precursor to reveal or sometthing.

  7. protimoi86 Says:

    This one is still my favorite…and I’m reluctant to try and describe the song and my feelings because I don’t think I can do either justice. But I will say I love the way it all comes together in the end with some very in-tune feedback.

    Scott McCaughey’s holding down a key and moving an octave lever up and down to get that siren-like sound. I read that McCaughey could only do this song every other soundcheck because his wrist would be numb by the end. This must have been as intense to perform as it was for us to listen to. If i could time travel, I would visit a couple soundchecks in 1995 and see them perform this song, where i heard it once reached 11 minutes in length.

  8. Andy Says:

    (Seems like there is a Yo La Tengo song that uses a siren to similar effect which predates “Leave.”

    Anyone know what song that is? I can’t remember.)

  9. Donut Says:

    this was my favorite favorite song when the album came out.
    and i enjoyed the remixed version that appears in the chase sequence of the film A Life Less Ordinary. the soundtrack had a remix of the remix, which is now on the In Time 2 disc set.

    the DTS surround sound remix that is on the New Adv in Hi-Fi DVDA is even more awesome than the 1996 CD release.

  10. Heyberto Says:

    Yeah, I can’t remember the In Time version, but I did hear and somewhat liked the version from A Life Less Ordinary. In the movie, it oscillated back and forth between the remix and album versions which was cool within the context of the movie. The movie soundtrack only had the remix version. I liked it ok, but the album version with the siren, I liked much better.

  11. ScottMalobisky Says:

    “bantanweight”, cool lyric , Stipe ain’t quite that small is he ?–113 to 118 lbs.?– oxymoronic , pugilism in an REM song

  12. jim jos Says:

    I don’t know about that Scott, Peter Buck challenged many a rowdy/obnoxious audience member during the bands early days on the road.

    Fair enough to say that this is Berry’s last final musical triumph with R.E.M. and the intensity of the song (and songs like this) is something that has been missing off the last three releases.

    Usually my favorite song off of NAIHF and one of the bands most under rated songs of their entire career.

  13. Figgy Says:

    Just like Flandall, I was appalled at the synth on my first listen but I think I immediately liked the chorus.

    I’ve realised from reading this forum that NAIHF is an album I have very rarely listened to over the last 10 years. So many of you rave about NAIHF and as each song has come up for review I’ve found myself agreeing with the positive feedback given.

    To put things right, a couple of weeks ago I decided to give the album a spin uninterrupted from start to finish. I cracked open a beer and had a game of rummy-o with my wife (ah… domestic bliss!?!) as New Adventures pumped out of the stereo. Thoroughly enjoyed it. The album has it weak moments but most of it is brilliant – including ‘Leave’. I no longer find the synth irritating and I think Matthew’s well-chosen words here will actually make me appreciate the synth.

    My wife was singing along with a lot of the tracks too which I found encouraging – we first met just after NAIHF was released and I bought her a copy as a pressie. Evidently, she actually listened to it.

  14. narcizo Says:

    “Leave”…it’s a bit ironic for Bill Berry, isn’t it? It is indeed a centerpiece of a kinda-concept lp and a “unicum” for many of its qualities.
    BB’s contribution to REM was the fact that, apart from being a more than adequate musician, he was probably the one that kept the other three down to earth, reminding them of their roots and influences.
    Peter Buck once said (I think it was in an interview with Jim DeRogatis) many rather insulting things about Berry’s shyness and maybe his complexes, but they were said in a way that showed that he was very upset about his desicion to quit the band, like he never totally accepted it.
    Leave them all behind.

  15. ExcessStrausses Says:

    Andy, the Yo La Tengo song is “Barnaby, Hardly Working”.

    This may be my favorite R.E.M. song of all time. Well, it’s up there, at least.

  16. Jerad Says:

    Narcizo…I’ve read many other things that Peter has said that really gives off the impression that he wasn’t really okay with Bill’s decision to leave. I remember reading almost a year after he left the band that Peter said that he hadn’t really talked to him since then. It was said as an aside comment, but it was obviously still hurting him.

  17. Mr Cup Says:

    Brutality and Grace. The walls of feedback. The ‘siren’. The ‘whalesong’ giutar squeeks. Gravity. Memory…


  18. Kirsten Says:

    I don’t really have anything intelligent to add (not that that usually stops me) so I’ll just say that I agree with everything. Great epic of a song.

    I like the version on the In Time CD. Not as good as the NAIHF version though by a long shot.

    I was watching a DVD yesterday where thay performed this song live – wow! I’d never seen it live before and it was briliant. The obvious stand out was the drumming. Bill (the new one) did an excellent job on it.

    Quickly touching on the Bill leaving subject – I’ve heard smart-ass bitchy comments from all 3 band members over the years (especially just after it happened). Now it kills me to say this but I did get annoyed with them and their childish comments. I didn’t want Bill to go either, but grow up, Bill’s an adult and is free to live his life as he sees fit. Leave him be. They seem to have gotten over it a bit now and are friends, which is great to see. They need to remember that they probably wouldn’t be where they are now without him.

  19. Znami Says:

    I’m reading this blog from the beginning and I’m grateful for that. Great Job!!!

    Now we have one of my favorite songs. I couldn’t agree more about this underrated piece of brilliant music.

    As the album came out, a friend of mine criticised the siren and I didn’t understand him. Later there was the unplugged version from this not so great movie and I did unterstand him for the first time. Nevertheless he now unterstands why I love the siren!

    Later I was so glad that they would play it live for the first time on the 2005 tour. But when I heard it, I wished they never played it. The live version has not fulfilled my wishes. I hope 2008/2009 they will find a version which will work live.

    It was too direct and Leave is not a POP Song. They should at least play the 1 minute intro and start slow.

  20. Ignis Sol Says:

    The lyrics to “Leave” are great. I especially like the part where the singer laments, “I suffer the dreams of a world gone mad” and then “I lost myself in sorrow…”

    I prefer the original album version because it very much sounds like a great and creative band giving a powerhouse performance, but the In Time version does make the lyrics (and Michael’s vocals)stand out more.

  21. Kirsten Says:

    Hey, does anyone know how to update your yearly fanclub membership? Since they updated their website, I can’t find where to do it. Mine’s not due until next year, but if they do decide to tour, I don’t want to miss out on tickets ’cause my membership has lapsed….

  22. Paul Alferink Says:

    A few things:
    I remember telling that a friend that my first impression of NAIHF was that if Monster was their grunge album, then NAIHF was their industrial album. Not so much, but the songs that made that initial impact were Undertow, with the metalic ‘tink tinks’ on the electric guitar and the siren in “Leave”.

    I’m not as big a fan of this album as other people, but I always love this song. The walking into the sea reminds me of Virginia Woolf so much. It’s like the protagonist has been trying to leave he just started walking until he came across the ocean. He still hadn’t left, gotten far enough away from that which he needed to leave, that he still goes farther, walking into the ocean, to get away. Walking into death.

    Best line:
    Lift me, lift me,
    I attain my dream.
    I lost myself, I lost the
    heartache calling me.
    I lost myself in sorrow
    I lost myself in pain.
    I lost myself in clarity,
    memory, leave, leave.

    REM often don’t talk unless they are working together or getting ready to work together. They haven’t since they mostly all left Athens. So PB not calling BB wouldn’t really be unusual.

    If memory serves me correctly, the Leave Re-Mix is not by REM, but by someone else. So no blaming them for that.

  23. Kirsten Says:

    I thought the words were:

    Believe me, beleive me
    I dream a dream
    I lost myself in nothing
    Now they’re calling me
    I lost myself in sorrow
    I lost myself in me
    I lost myself in vanity
    memory, leave, leave.

    Wow, I got that wrong! Still I like my version. I’ll try to sing it right from now on, but after 10 years it’ll be hard to change the habbit!

    I also love the “walk in to the sea” line. I’m not good enough with words to describe what I’m thinking, but the imagary that line gives is amazing.

  24. Ignis Sol Says:

    I read on the internet that “Leave” is one of the best songs written about suicide. I prefer to think of the song in different terms.

    Kirsten, we all would like to walk into the sea some times. We all need to. The journey the singer takes in this song is a long, quiet one. It is like a long drive on a Sunday afternoon. In my case it is to get away from the city and get closer amongst the trees, touch the waters and view the mountains. Clarity.

    The protagonist walks into the sea, but – in my mind – does not get swallowed up in the undertow, does not drown and sink, but swims on and on in the vast blueness. Kind of like the imagery at the end of “The Lifting,” where he is swimming below and viewing the sunken cities. “I’ve Been High” has a similar notion: “so I dive into a pool so cool and deep that if I sink I sink and when I swim I fly so high.” In both cases the ocean, the sea are freeing and offer a new perspective on life and our journeys.

  25. Kirsten Says:

    I always thought it was suicide. But then apparently I’ve gotten all the words wrong so who knows??

    Plus I can’t swim, so if I walk into the sea, I’m fucked.

  26. Ignis Sol Says:

    I’ll be your life preserver. 🙂

  27. Kirsten Says:

    No thanks, I’d rather turn into a ghost and spend the rest of eternity haunting REM!! 🙂

  28. Ignis Sol Says:

    sometimes if feel like a ghost in my own life

  29. Kirsten Says:

    Me too. And in everyone else’s.

    I think I’d like to buried with all my REM stuff.
    Lets bury magnets together.

  30. ScottMalobisky Says:

    the perfect combination of insolence and vulnerability
    I like it like that and I know it.

  31. Dark Bob Says:

    I’ll say it again NAIHF is REM’s most underated album. Full of great songs and various styles. This song is simply hypnotic. and for the record I’m # 2,027,239. However, I understand his reason to retire, and I wish him nothing but health and happiness. That being said, I truly believe REM are about to enter into a new phase of their career that is going to be brilliant. I think their confidence is back and their best work is yet to come, which I know will make Bill extremely proud as he truly is the world’s # 1 REM fan.

  32. Ignis Sol Says:

    cremate me in death
    mix my ashes with the paint
    become still life art

  33. Kirsten Says:


  34. Figgy Says:

    Dark Bob, I agree with everything you’ve just said.

  35. clare Says:

    This is one of my top 5 songs from one of my top 3 albums. It demands to be listened to as loud as your ears can bare, preferably in a car on a wide open long road, & preferably when you are in a bad mood & want to release the aggression & insanity building in your brain!! Love the write up Michael, I think it completely captures the essence of the track. Embarrasing irony alert!!!…I did not hear this song properly until about 6 months after having bought album, I kept skipping it thinking it was an instrumental!!(Sacriligious in itself I know!)…ah my foolish youth!! Imagine my hysteria when I finally discovered the song….& how long it was!

  36. clare Says:

    Can’t believe I just called Matthew Michael….i’m turning into my grandmother getting folks names wrong!!!

  37. milesy Says:

    Those creatures jumped the barricades, and headed for the sea.

  38. kirkl Says:

    milesy…just thinking the same line. spooky.

  39. Trent Says:

    The moment when that siren kicks in in A Life Less Ordinary is one of my fave song-in-a-movie moments of all time.

    Thanks for the blog, MP. Your work is very much appreciated.

  40. Can’t believe you are still on this quest, when do you think that you will reach your goal? You could always write about your favorite song last, like in, 20 years.


  41. dumbek Says:

    Kirsten – To renew your fanclub membership go to remhq.com, click on “Fanclub” (at the top), then click on “Join” (on the left). There’s an option to renew on the following page.

  42. Andy T Says:

    Back years before I read anything about the song in books and online, I thought it was about either drug addiction or suicide. With that wailing synth underscoring “alarm bells are ringing” somewhere inside the protagonist’s mind that he’s on a course of self-destruction.

  43. Just had NAIHF on tonight. It’s like a beautiful road trip. This blog makes my life good again. Keep up the good work.

  44. jjjasper Says:

    I never thought of this song in terms of suicide, although I can certainly see where that’s coming from.

    This is one of the best. The memory that gives me shivers as I write this is driving down the open road on my way to work, listening to this song, absolutely cranked. At the time I was under a lot of stress, lots coming a me, and definitely feeling the blanket of depression. I listened to this music and thought to myself, “I have a family, a tough job, money problems, on and on. What would happen if I just kept driving. Leave it all behind.”

    I didn’t, but that realization that I could just keep going and not come back was powerful. There would be terrible consequences, people would get hurt, but the possibility was frighteningly tempting. Not wanting to go forward, knowing better, but somehow being drawn in anyway.

  45. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Public Service Announcement: do not listen to this song while drivng stoned , you’ll think the fuzz is on your tail

    Dark Bob , do you need a new environmentally friendly light bulb?

  46. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Leave is great, one of my favorite from Hi-Fi (one of my fave CD’s). I have never thought that siren was annoying. Fits the nervous tension of the song perfectly. Also have to agree that the “better” alternate take on In Time in WAY inferior. I can’t believe Michael thinks its a better version, even the vocals are assuredly NOT better.

    Love the way he says and pronounces LE-AVE!

  47. Kirsten Says:

    Thanks dumbek, will check it out right now – can’t miss out on those tickets!!

    Never thought of it from drug addition point of view, jjjasper. Will listen to it tonight on the way home from work with that in mind, I can see how it could work.

    Hey Scotty, thanks for the advice. 🙂

  48. jjjasper Says:

    Kirsten, I’m sorry if you misunderstood me. By “cranked”, I meant very loud.

  49. Kirsten Says:

    Oh no, sorry jjjasper, it was my mistake. It was Andy T who said that, not you. All apologies…

  50. ScottMalobisky Says:

    he woulda said “tweaked”, you’re moving through rough waters ,boy, it’s all amphetamine

  51. ScottMalobisky Says:

    got me to thinking , clare , what’s REM’s longest song?this ? feel like I’m missing something really obvious

  52. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Paul, never knew Virginia W. died like that , knew she committed suicide, that seems impossible, Dude, to drown oneself thus the stones I suppose to circumvent the gag reflex of survival…You get yourself in a position where there is no turning back at the moment of panic, hers is no disgrace considering her predicament.

  53. xman Says:

    leave is the longest, but live cfeedback and sjwtb’s clock in about 10-12 mins.

    i wish peter would solo on lp like he does live. after 13 albums, i think he should be allowed one totally self indulgent jizzshot 5 minute gtr solo.

  54. Paul Alferink Says:

    Yeah, really, I don’t think he likes too much, and he’s mostly not good at it. I think that’s part of the reason why they play his guitar solo in WTF,K? backward. Because forward, it’s kinda lame.

  55. huub Says:

    Indeed, Peter is not a solo-guitarist. I think I even read that somewhere. Also in his many side-bands, he doesn’t do solo’s a lot. Pretty unique for a guitarplayer, he’s the modest type.

  56. xman Says:

    yeah, im aware he’s no zack wylde, but live at least on those two songs, he’s proven he capable of soloing sometimes. i never really liked sjwtb that much, but it would have greatly benefitted from that approach in the studio. a 10 minute epic sjwtb to woulda been a better album closer than beachball. then again, t’s just reveal, so who cares?

    it’d never happen, but at least it’d be something authentically different and more challanging than disguising a boring chord progression with a bunch of swirly effects and e-bow lines.

    a bridge too far…

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