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.