New Orleans Instrumental No. 1

November 13, 2007

To best appreciate “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1,” all you have to do is make a playlist on your mp3 player that omits the song from Automatic For The People‘s running order, and then note just how abrupt the beginning of “Sweetness Follows” feels coming after “Everybody Hurts.” The two songs aren’t exactly jarring side by side — if anything, they are far too similar in tone — but there’s a feeling that we need some relatively quiet time between the two to collect our thoughts, or prepare ourselves for the grief of “Sweetness Follows.” The instrumental perfectly evokes the moment of shock and hollow disbelief that immediately accompanies loss, and serves as a fine prelude to the mourning in the subsequent song.


45 Responses to “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1”

  1. lenny Says:

    Interesting thoughts, Matthew. While I do like the song, I always found the placement of this instrumental quite odd. Thanks for shedding some light on this.

    Also — by the same reasoning as above, I think that New Orleans Instrumental #2 would have fit well between Nightswimming and Find the River. Why not separate these last two beautiful, lyrical songs as well? Perhaps NOI #2 was too long?

  2. Jared W Says:

    This song embodies AFTP extremely well, and I love it. And for what it’s worth, I think this is the nicest remake on that Stereogum Drive XV album.

  3. Dark Bob Says:

    I agree with you Matthew as to what this song’s probable purpose was. However, I don’t think AFTP would have suffered had they left it off. In fact, it may have been overkill to put this between Everybody hurts and Sweetness follows.

  4. maclure Says:

    A brilliant instrumental, perhaps second only to Endgame off OTT in the entire REM set. The noises coming out of Peter’s guitar are so mournful. It’s so sparse but never seems to lack susbtance… I can’t imagine AFTP without it. Summed up by Matthew perfectly.

  5. adam Says:

    beautiful.. not as mournful I think.. more contemplative.. and certainly evokes musically where the band was right then… its ignoreland that still doesnt fit.. and can be omitted.. yet, I love that song too and would put it nowhere else

  6. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    As a younger person I didn’t really like this song but as I’ve aged it seems very much a part of AFTP and I had never thought about MP’s comment of placement before but I agree that without it Everybody Hurts and Sweetness Follows would be a much more emotionally draining ten minutes, especially so early in an album. If never thought of New Orleans Instrumental #1 as being a mournful or sad, more comtemplative and hopeful. It’s like the feeling when you wake up on a sunny, nice day and you are pretty sure its going to be a good day, but you can’t quite shake the sleep out of your head.

  7. Bandwagon03 Says:

    I love this little instrumental track, I always think about the other little instrument flourishes in the older REM catalog.

  8. Ignis Sol Says:

    “New Orleans Instrumental #1” is a great musical interlude on a thoughtful, creative album. It is like a long and thoughful sigh tucked in between the quiet and loud moments of our days.

  9. Figgy Says:

    This instrumental has always reminded me of waking early in the morning just as the sun is rising and looking out the window, half-asleep, on to empty city streets below. A nice calm feeling before the bustle of a new day begins.

    By the way, some good points made here particularly by MP, BWD and Ignis. I hadn’t really thought of AFTP without NOI#1 but I like the explanation that it’s a necessary pause between Everybody Hurts and Sweetness Follows. I think BWD’s point is on the same wavelength as mine and Ignis’ “thoughtful sigh” comment is a very nice description of the piece. Good one.

  10. xman Says:

    somber, thoughtful, weird howling chords, thumpy bassline..sort of a mini masterpiece on album of masterpieces.
    the first true instrumental on an r.e.m. album.. no stipe, but still so expressive.
    underappreciated but as salt n pepa would say “vey necessary”.

    wish i had the 7 minute version.

  11. xman Says:

    milestone: pretty sure this is the first r.e.m. song with an e-bow

  12. Justin Says:

    R.E.M. definitely tailor their albums to the vinyl format; if you think about Automatic in those terms, “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1” is also a perfect closer for Side 1. Conversely, “Sweetness Follows” is a lovely opener for Side 2.

    You really want to appreciate “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1”, though? Listen to it with headphones.

  13. Kirsten Says:

    Well written by everyone. A great piece with a nice, relaxing feel to it. Generally underrated, easily overlooked, but never skipped and the album would suffer without it.
    I also agree with Jared W that it was a very good cover on Drive XV.

  14. Mr Cup Says:

    Ditto everyone.
    Especially Beethoven. I’ve always felt a groggy optimism with this song. And if it makes any sense – enjoyment in small things. The way light reflects of certain surfaces, the shapes in the sand, the air entering your nostrils…

    a song for contemplative moments perhaps. Beautiful, small moments.

  15. jim jos Says:

    always thought of this song as a necessary bridge between the two emotional songs as well. Also agree with the sentiment that it does have that early morning waking up feel to it as well. I have had the honor of waking up in (pre Katrina) New Orleans with the last night buzz feeling in my head, a little groggy but excited about what kind of mischief the day would hold.
    This song reminds me of that feeling, the rays of sunlight breaking through my window as I got up to look at Canal street below. And while the title pointed me in the direction of that, the song itself captures it all on its own.

    Just read that R.E.M. is going to be at the Langerado festival in Florida. I knew that living in Florida was not a complete waste of time! 2008 is going to be a great R.E.M. year, I can just feel it. And, the festival coming so close to home is such a great sign of that. I am already looking forward to hearing the new songs the first time they are played on U.S. soil and the first time many songs of the new album will be played at all. Plus, I can see Of Montreal, Roots and Beastie Boys as well. An added plus, but it would be worth it for R.E.M. alone.

    I hope to meet any and all of you there!

  16. maclure Says:

    I lived in Florida for 6 months in 99 and I have family there. Wish I could go, I really do… jim jos you’re a lucky man.

    Re: New Orleans #1 – I’m hearing you all say that the song has a sort of positive, early morning feel to it (“what kind of mischief the day would hold”). I just never heard it that way. Without lyrics its hard to say, but the song evokes emotions of numbness, uncertainty to me – of a dull grey, rainy funeral of a person I never knew. I like the Drive XV version, but I think its too sunny… but then a good cover should reinvent a tune to an extent, so I suppose that’s not a bad thing.

  17. jft Says:

    nice little instrumental, doesn’t feel out of place at all, like your comments on it…

    btw, this is imo not a guitar with an e-bow but a guitar with a volume pedal. might be wrong.

  18. Kirsten Says:

    Maclure, maybe you should go visit some of your family in Florida – say around March 8th??

  19. xman Says:

    pretty definite its an eb-bow, the way those one note howls slide and buzz to the next…swooning in and out of eachother…
    towards the end of the song that clunking noise is peter switching from one string to another.

    when i got my e-bow, it came with a giant list of songs and albums featuring e-bows..e-bow the letter was on there, leave, sweetness follows, and you were there, and you, and you!

    never really got the early morning vibe from this one. i see just rows of streetlites and headlites at nite.

  20. Justin, side A of Automatic ends with “Sweetness Follows” — the side breaks are the same on vinyl and cassette. It’s a really good division — “Monty Got A Raw Deal” works really well as a side opener, and sorta echoes “Drive” in a way.

  21. Scott Says:

    I like the long version even better.

  22. milesy Says:

    It seems we’re all agreed, then. NOI#1 is great. What a relief after all that aggro over Reno.
    One of my favourite bits is when someone (Bill?) counts everyone in at the start- he sounds all energetic as if everyone’s about to rock out, like he’s counting in for ‘I took your name’ or something- but then what we hear is totally different. This used to crack me up every time I heard it.

    BTW, I first had Automatic on cassette, and also always thought Monty was a fine start to side two. It also makes an interesting start to side one if your tape happens to be rewound to the wrong side when you begin (remember that..?), as mine often was. It certainly changes the mood of the album to then have it ending with Everybody Hurts, NOI#1 and Sweetness Follows.

    On the subject of Monty, I used to have a recurring dream where it was the opening song at a concert. But I’ll save that for later…

  23. 2d Says:

    to me, this song is the closest r.e.m. came to the feeling on pink floyd’s “the dark side of the moon”. i have the remastered version of that album and it’s amazing, and “new orleans no.1” very much reminds me of the playful dialogue between the instruments on songs like “money”, “breathe”, “brain damage” etc. crisp production, use of negative space and echoes to add dimension, interplay between different sounds, organicity… truly a unique song in r.e.m.’s repertoire, and very unconventionally progressive for them.

    need i mention i love it, album placement and all?

  24. Paul Alferink Says:

    I suck at playing the piano, but this was fun to play. Lots of sustaining pedal and jumping around up and down on the keyboard. Always made me feel like I really could play . . .

    I like this song. Probably my favorite REM instrumental (although I have a soft spot for “Mandolin Strum”)

  25. Mr Cup Says:

    I had Pink Floyd shoved on me by a bunch of bong brandishing types. The types that say “this would be so good stoned”. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…but is it safe to listen to pink floyd with thine own ears? Or will I just get all paranoid?

  26. xman Says:

    bong boys have turned me off from the following: pink floyd, bob dylan, jimi hendrix, grateful dead, led zepplin…not that i wish to assail the actual quality of those bands’ outputs, but the contingent following those bands is pretty lame.

    as a side note, i don’t think i’ve listened to r.e.m. sober since reveal came out. going back and listening to the old albums in the days when getting stoned was like walking into another dimension was neat, noticed a lot of things i never did before, some things were actually pretty crazy sounding..

  27. lenny Says:

    Mr. Cup: Bong boys or not — I think Dark Side of the Moon is THE best album of all time. Probably better to NOT be stoned to pay attention to some of the excellent music Pink Floyd made, in my opinion. But I never made any comparison between REM and Pink Floyd. I just never connected them in any way, but I’ll think about that some more now. Radiohead is the current band that I would compare most closely to Pink Floyd (back in their heyday).

    Xman – I have an old bong boy friend that loves every one of those artists that you listed, and he now has a Doctorate in Engineering, so there are some intelligent folks out there that follow music like that. And I say that if it’s good music, it can certainly be enjoyed without any chemical enhancement.

  28. ScottMalobisky Says:

    ever look at Salvador Dali paintings while stoned ? astounding the things you see

    noticed the similiarity between the very beginnings of Bad Day and Nirvana’s Breed while out of my mind on the rare Sumatran coffee bean this morning

    interesting angle there MP, never thought of it that way before

  29. ScottMalobisky Says:

    pray for rain in Georgia

  30. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Justin, if AFTP was on vinyl “Sweetness Follows” would end side 1 and “Monty” would start side 2 if they did a 6 and 6 song split.

  31. maclure Says:

    Somebody up above mentioned that this could be an instrumental toward the end of the album. Actually, I think Star Me Kitten sort of does this. With no real percussion, and lyrics low in the mix, it is a quiet breath before the closing trio of songs. New Orleans Instrumental #1 and Star Me Kitten are sort of like rest stops on the way to… er… finding the river.

  32. xman Says:

    i didn’t mean to undermine anyone’s intelligence, just that certain aesthetic has turned me off of certain bands.

    chronic town, poster torn…

  33. lenny Says:

    I know what you meant, xman. I didn’t mean to imply that you were undermining my intelligence or my friend’s — I was just saying that although there are some “lame” folks getting stoned and listening to those bands, some of them do perform good music for an intelligent audience, too. (Just not as intelligent as REM’s audience!)

  34. 2d Says:

    i agree with you ignis, “the dark side of the moon” is just perfect. both by individual song and album-wise, it’s very strong, though i would put it on the same level as their “wish you were here”. stunning double-whammy.

    i am not a pot-user myself, though i’ve tried it from time to time, to no effect. usually i don’t really associate fans/bands/popularity/songs (like, for instance, i completely dislike bono but find that some of u2’s discgraphy nothing short of genius), i listen without “prejudice” if you will. the music should speak for itself. i DO however give more chances to bands i love (such as r.e.m.) and, because of my support, i have changed my mind a few times about something that i initially thought was bad.

  35. Justin Says:

    That’s what I get for not looking at the record while I comment on it. D’oh!

    (I still think it would be a good side closer, but I guess that would make side A too short)

  36. satisfied75 Says:

    singularly defines the vibe of the album

  37. ryan Says:

    Well put S75!

    The haunting photo by Fredrik Nilson on the back of the album is what I always think of when I hear this song…

  38. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I hear there’s rain in Georgia now (?)
    Happy Birthday Mitch Easter, you old geezer you

  39. ScottMalobisky Says:

    how many New Orleans Instrumentals are there ?
    xman , where you located geographically ?..or would it ruin your mystique if you divulged that information ?

  40. Ignis Sol Says:

    Rainin’ in Georgia? Cue “I’ll Take the Rain” for the news in Athens.

  41. xman Says:

    theres 2 n.o. instrumentals.
    right now, i’m livin in massachusetts.

    and i’m not mystique, i’m an x-mman! 🙂

  42. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Massachusetts , eh? Run em’ outta town , me and the Boston Bruins, we are the under-achievers, the Cleavers and the Cheevers, the ordinary average guys……

  43. gluefoot Says:

    i don’t get the groggy morning content reaction others have referred to here.. for me, it’s utter despair and peter’s mourning e-bow is heart-breaking.. i think in terms of the reflective mood of the album, it doesn’t get any more stark than on this track.. a beautiful song and in my view the longer version falls a bit flat.. no.1 is just perfect..

  44. 2d Says:

    i think this song is neither sad nor happy, it’s meditative. it’s very intimate and personal, a playful self-reflection in a room far away from the rest of the world.

  45. 4trak Says:

    Sorry for commenting on this months after it passed, but does anyone find this piece especially mournful, post-Katrina?

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