Chorus and the Ring

December 4, 2007

“Chorus and the Ring” is like a distant cousin of “Finest Worksong,” at least in the sense that its arrangement emulates the sound of machinery, and its lyrics contrast the frail humanity of its protagonist with cold, mechanical precision. Whereas the machines of “Finest Worksong” are fairly literal, the steady clockwork of “Chorus” is more metaphorical, standing in for a steady, fatalistic march towards inevitability. In either case, Michael Stipe and his underdog character rebel against their constraints, but in “Chorus,” the music is fragile enough to bend to his will, and the song builds to a majestic crescendo that would’ve provided a better conclusion to Reveal than the sentimental melodrama of “I’ll Take The Rain” or the lazy, luxurious “Beachball.”

56 Responses to “Chorus and the Ring”

  1. Heyberto Says:

    Yeah, I like this song ok… overall, the Reveal album didn’t do much for me but this is one of the better tunes.

  2. Rob Says:

    This always sounded to me like a stripped down version of Falls To Climb. Similar stately pace, similar fatalistic lyrics. Lots of interesting imagery going on here, seems to be a song about primal animal instinct.

  3. jft Says:

    this is a song that needed a lot of time to grow on me, in difference to its (even better) neighbour “I’ll Take The Rain”. well, it’s definitely one of the best songs on Reveal. i love it for its chord progression in the verses which creates that relaxed and airy feel, as well as for its weird lyrics (also a great inclusion of the 2nd verse in “country feedback” on the perfect square dvd).
    while the verse chords were not that hard to figure out for me as a guitarist, i never managed to fully decipher the chorus chord progression. this might be caused by the dominant snthesizer in that part, even if this song contains less of them than others on reveal. and as I’m listening to it right now, I recognize once again what great an outro it has. together with I’ll Take The Rain it fits so perfectly that I would even suggest them to be the strongest two-song-progression of REM if there wasn’t the LRP and the AFTP 1-2 progressions…

  4. jft Says:

    and btw, nice review. i can feel that “machine” feel as well

  5. Paul Alferink Says:

    Like this song. Love this album.

    Best Lyrics:
    it’s the poison that in measures brings
    illuminating vision
    it’s the knowing with a wink that we expect in
    southern women

  6. kirk Says:

    i’ve been waiting for this one.
    nice review m.p.
    man, i love this song. so unique.
    time to crawl back to the sea.

  7. protimoi Says:

    YEAH!

    I love love love this one, and i agree i agree with Paul, those are the best lyrics, including the following parts about the animals (“it’s the octopus that crawled back to the sea”). And that gorgeous crescendo is my favorite little moment on Reveal.

    On a separate note, I was happy to see Michael bring this one out for its debut performance at the Tibet House Benefit early this year. Maybe we’ll see a full-band version someday soon

  8. Jerad Says:

    Ugh, this might be my least favorite song that they’ve ever put on an album. I like Reveal, for the most part, but I usually skip this track. It sounds unfinished, but not in the way that a demo shows promise. It sounds to me like the band just didn’t put any heart into writing or recording it.

  9. 2d Says:

    this is a very good and strong song, but something keeps it from being simply great: sometimes the vocals layered on top of the fuzz get a bit frustrating. strange, because i like michael’s voice in this one. it’s just that the production gets grating at times, too sharp and loud. i think that it resembles “sad professor” quite a lot, but is the weaker song between the two.

    nice surreal images conjured up by the lyrics though.

  10. tampopo Says:

    this song is terrible. how can a group of people who write ‘i believe’, ‘drive’, ‘feeling gravitys pull’ do this. this song is just blech mid tempo adult contemporary swill.

    go listen to matchbox twenty for BETTER versions of this ‘music’.

  11. Elliot H. Says:

    I disagree on your opinions of Reveal. I think it’s the best of the electronic period (as well as being one of R.E.M.’s better albums in general), and I generally really like all the songs on the album (including Beachball) except Summer Turns to High and I’ll Take the Rain (which are both just OK).

    Anyway, this song was one of my favorites first time I heard it, but I’ve kind of forgotten about it over time.

  12. Dark Bob Says:

    Great Lyrics. Dull song. Dull Album. Just my opinion.

  13. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I don’t like Reveal all that much (which I have already been crucified for – as I actually prefer ATS) however, this song is a very solid track (although it sounds more like a song from ATS in my opinion). I agree that the lyrics are excellent and thoughtful and it is the music that holds it up a bit. One of the thinks I like about this song is that it is one of a very few tracks since AFTP that seems to try and connect with that archetypal REM “southern gothic” sound that I have discussed before in many cases. Interesting twist to tie into the classical era with that southern gothic theme. A near-stand-out from a mediocre (for REM) CD.

  14. Justin Says:

    I love this number. Those chiming, fuzzy guitars are quite seductive, and Stipe’s musings on instinct are a lyrical apex on the album. It was neat to hear Stipe reprise some of those words as a spoken intro to the live take of “County Feedback” on In Time. That whole version rules. Buck’s solo on that is scorching. Rock!

  15. Kirsten Says:

    I’m another fan of this song. The lyrics are fantastic and I love the mechanical, mundane (in a good way) way in which the verses are sung. Also love the ending.

    Siiiiiiiiiiiaaaaaiiaaaannnng

  16. Adam Says:

    I love this song and agree with protimoi that the performance at the Tibet House concert was really, really good. I had always liked the song but when I saw it stripped back with just Peter and Michael it shed new light on the song.

    MP is dead on about the mechanical nature of the song – I had never noticed that before. It seems strangely ambivalent but very confident at the same time.

    Agree with Kristen too – the ending rocks. You can almost feel the “Stipey” hand motions going on while he is singing that part.

  17. Mr Cup Says:

    I’d filed this song away under skippable. It never really grabbed me and that may be a consequence of the company it keeps as the songs either side are a little yawnful.

    Something happened when I was reading Matthews post that kind of illuminated everything…I had visions…everything became a sepia toned, yet sunbleached vision of the future. A city of coppered surfaces that the fall somwhere between the Chrysler Building and Blade Runner. I read the lyrics. They were good. Listening to the song anew I recalled when Peter Buck was so enamored by Tom Waits’ Bone Machine that he wanted to do something similar and I wondered if this was his version. This though, sounds more in the kitchen banging pots than out in the shed wailing on a tractor.

    The machine of God singing…I am healed brother!
    (and sister)

  18. Kevin Says:

    Not a big fan of this one — I prefer it as the spoken-word intro to “Country Feedback.”


  19. I find it weird that on Reveal, an album with some rather deliberate moves towards adult contemporary pop, that anyone would single out “Chorus and the Ring” as particular offender since it’s a) one of the weirder songs on the record and b) it’s essentially a folk song, and not too far removed from something like “Swan Swan H.” Shouldn’t you be directing your anger more towards “I’ll Take The Rain”?

  20. Paul Alferink Says:

    Ever so disappointed I didn’t know about this blog back when you did “I’ll take the rain.” I would have had to meet you by the swingsets and pummel the merits of that song into you. . . Zach Braff indeed.

  21. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Oh, because of the Thanksgiving holiday in the USA I was late posting in Free World, Baby – I suggested an alternate running order of OOT there including that song and Fretless, its right near the end of the chain of comments. I’d be interested in any feedback if any of you care to go to that song and read it.

  22. Clare Says:

    I love this one, i think it is a real solid, strong one off the album & goes some way to balance the lighter tones of Beachball, Imitation of Life, Reno et all. It is one of the songs of the band that really resonates with Southern storytelling/folklore. I agree that the final “siiiiing” is one of the best endings in their more recent catalogue & despite how you may think otherwise it really is great live. By the way…..
    ….LEAVE “I’LL TAKE THE RAIN” ALONE!!!!!!

  23. ScottMalobisky Says:

    cool musings there , MP, made me appreciate the song more although I disagree that it would be a better closer for the album . the machinery angle is a good way of describing it , the music is a metronome or a clock ticking coldly on in a barren god-forsaken universe ,embracing the inevitable to be eventually forgotten.
    always liked the lyrics to this song -the holy terror sucking the marrow from the bone, the hammered, shooting plywood in the backyard…I think of a toothless Southern Redneck behind a corrugated tin-roofed shack hating everything that isn’t white, Christian , or heterosexual and loving NASCAR (I sorta think of this as being closest to I Wanted To Be Wrong in terms of REM song siblings, a fraternal twin brother) -and I knew there was a fourth tar reference in an REM song (!)…A distant cousin to Finest Worksong is kind of an odd way of putting it, I guess it’s a distant cousin in the same lowest common denominator way that I am a distant cousin to Hugo Chavez………And I too love I’ll Take The Rain, that song can almost make me cry if my guard is down and the moment is right.

  24. ScottMalobisky Says:

    and to post a song like this after Star 69, such a glaring example of the PRODIGIOUS VARIETY that is REM , remarkable really, no other band can even come close to such a powerful array of styles/emotional content of songs done so well except, perhaps , The Beatles. Such is the essence of the endlessly enticing enigma that is REM.

  25. clare Says:

    That was a very amusing post Scott in a few different ways!! Now I won’t be able to get that snarling redneck out of my head everytime I hear that song!!
    I agree the tune is more in cohesion with I Wanted to Be Wrong than Final Worksong, don’t see (hear) that at all.

  26. adam Says:

    no matter how hard I try.. dont see any similarites thematically or musically to finest worksong.. very strange description. but hey, thats what makes this interesting.

  27. milesy Says:

    Thanks everyone, I’ve now had my first experience of appreciating a song I never really ‘got’ before… Southern gothic, Swan, Swan H, great ending, etc.

    Still have to agree with BWD, though- I basically don’t like reveal and massively prefer ATS.

  28. milesy Says:

    I don’t mean a first first experience. I mean a first experience as a result of this fantastic blog… you know what I mean!

  29. Ignis Sol Says:

    “It’s instinct.”

  30. Kirsten Says:

    It’s the octopus that crawled back to the sea.

  31. Ignis Sol Says:

    Kirsten, thanks for chiming in!

  32. Matthew Says:

    Maybe it’s the alcohol in my bloodstream, but I finally think I’m at peace with this song. I had conventionally thought my love for Reveal stemmed from it’s opening four songs, but this is actually beautiful. This album is so underrated; even more so than Up. It’s my most listened-to R.E.M. album, and I’m a teenager who prides himself on having a quite ‘hip’ (urgh) music taste.
    x

  33. Mr Cup Says:

    Seems a few of us have been converted on this post.

    I’m sure it’s been said before, but they have created some really different and challenging sounds the last slew of albums. The ‘electronic era’ shall we call it? The challenge for me has been to reconcile the musical departures and the fact that they are still writing ‘pop’ songs within that. The general chord framework that non-musical me hears as structure, has been pushed to the background as the wierd noodlings come to the fore, but not so as to dominate the song.

    Is that anyone else’s experience?

    I shoudn’t write anything before coffee I know….

  34. Kirsten Says:

    “the wierd noodlings come to the fore, but not so as to dominate the song”.

    That’s why Saturn Returns is my favourite song on Reveal, although they do dominate a little more on that song. Well put.

  35. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Hey Ignis , you above water up there ?
    yeah , well put ,Mr. Cup , and you wrote that BEFORE coffee ?!?! damn..

  36. Figgy Says:

    Don’t have much to add to this thread. Agree with all those who have had gained a better appreciation of certain songs as a result of reading reviews on this site.

    Recently the ‘Reno’ review spurred me into listening to ‘Reveal’ from start to finish. It’ll never be my favourite REM album but it certainly has some merit. So I’m grateful to MP and all you bloggers for sharing your opinions over the past few months, especially on the songs that I’ve never previously warmed to. Cheers!

    By the way, ‘Chorus and the Ring’ is a song I’ve never had a strong feeling about. I’ve just read all the lyrics I think I might have underappreciated it, so I’ll give it an attentive listen soon and see if I get to like the song any more.

    And for the record, you can count me as a liker of ‘I’ll Take the Rain’.

  37. Mr Cup Says:

    Hey MP, was Blade Runner on your mind when you wrote this one up?

    The themes cover similar ground and I can’t stop equating the two.

    Musically, it seems to have stemmed from the same work day as Saturn Return. They are both comprised of ‘wierd noodling’ in the background with vocals pushed way up front to carry the song.
    Both very minimal and clean despite the ‘industrial’ murmurings.

  38. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Matthew, you’re a teenager with alcohol in your bloodstream.? I’m calling your parents, Dude.

    Just noticed the similiarity between the beginning acoustic guitar of I’ll Take The Rain and Sister Morphine. That Peter , stealing riffs again.

  39. Ignis Sol Says:

    Hey, Scott thanks for asking. The city itself – for the most part – was spared the deluge the areas south of me and near the Pacific coast received. I won’t be driving down to Portland anytime soon because part of I-5 is washed out. In this case, I WON’T take the rain, and I don’t want to “Find the River.”

    It was coming down heavy at points over the weekend, but I stayed in and watched R.E.M. Live with my cute (and very young) BF. He is like, “who is the band again?” 🙂


  40. “Matthew, you’re a teenager with alcohol in your bloodstream.? I’m calling your parents, Dude.”

    Haha. I’m in the UK, so it’s nice and legal here from 18 onwards! Not to mention big and clever and impressive to women.
    x

  41. Figgy Says:

    In Ireland, my own father got me on the booze before I turned 18. Must have wanted to give me a head start on being “big and clever and impressive to women”!

    By the way, what makes Bisky think Mr Cup’s a teenager?

  42. Paul Alferink Says:

    “The city itself – for the most part – was spared the deluge the areas south of me and near the Pacific coast received. I won’t be driving down to Portland anytime soon because part of I-5 is washed out. In this case, I WON’T take the rain, and I don’t want to “Find the River.” ”

    No. Western Rain (I’m Sorry?)

  43. Ignis Sol Says:

    “….here comes the flood…”

  44. ScottMalobisky Says:

    “IIIIIIIIIIIIIIII’m drown- -eeeeeeeeing.”

    Lost you there Figgy……..I know Mr.cup is not a teenager, he’s too wise………

    yeah, Matthew Foster , I remember you now ,asked you awhile back what universtiy you attended when you were talking about sitting at the bar there and Electrolite came on . So, what university you at ?

  45. Kirsten Says:

    Mr Cup WISHES he was a teenager!🙂

  46. Ignis Sol Says:

    My BF was a teenager one year ago. Oops, too much info?

  47. Mr Cup Says:

    Ahem…look woman, I goy a Fantasy Tan, abs that look like mangos and I’m ALWAYS getting asked for ID. (Yes, I’m Ben Cousins!!!))

  48. Kirsten Says:

    Is that legal Ignis??

    Yeah Mr Cup and I’m a Angelina Jolie look-alike!

  49. Figgy Says:

    Doh! Must have misread earlier posts and got it in to my head that Bisky’s teenager comment was directed at Mr Cup. Must be sleepy today after the Elton John concert last night.

    Oh no, I’ve said too much…

  50. Mr Cup Says:

    I had about a month in my life once where I had to attend every Godawful show in town. It would make most people here cry.

    Ignis – it’s his mind that you find most attractive, right?

  51. Ignis Sol Says:

    Kirsten, 20 is legal – I met him last spring (late spring). So we are cool.

    Mr. Cup, yeah, his mind is beautiful.🙂 He IS very attractive and very talented. He studies music at Cornish (a renown music college) here in Seattle.

    I am getting him into R.E.M. He likes rawer music: Mudvaine, etc. Ah, sweet and wonderful youth.

  52. Paul Alferink Says:

    I saw a 1950’s training film about you, Ingis. It was called “Boys Beware” From it, I learned there are overly friendly men called “Homosexual” who pick up young boys just looking to hitch hike home from a baseball game. Eventually, after ice cream, they go to the man’s apartment. I assume next is a cross between when Gordon Jump asked Dudley to take his shirt off on Diff’rent Strokes, and whatever happened to Tim Robbins in “Mystic River.” It’s on You Tube. Thank god for 1950’s educational films. They so help explain why our parents are so messed up. And now I know that every friendly man is a homosexual, here to by me ice cream and show me their apartment.
    Come to think of it, there are a lot of friendly people on this forum . . . BACK, BACK, HOMOSEXUALS!

  53. Ignis Sol Says:

    The training film should be about heteros. I was hesitant to mention my bf on this forum because I feared backlash. I am compelled only because many people on this forum have talked about their spouses (and tha fact that Michael Stipe is queer, too).

    I know you are kidding, PaulA. At least I hope.

    So, I will key my gay atheist stories to myself and only discuss things like a Greek chorus singing while an octopus crawls back to the sea, the sea.🙂 Siiiing!!

  54. Paul Alferink Says:

    Really, Ignis. I love everybody. Except people who don’t like Wendel Gee. And I’ll take the rain. But other that. . .

    And Laplander. Stupid Laplanders. They think there so great with their Reindeer, and their stupid clothes. Laplanders can go to hell.

  55. Ignis Sol Says:

    Hey, I’m part Laplander!

  56. Ignis Sol Says:

    But I do like Wendell Gee, even though he is an idiot.


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