Wolves, Lower

March 8, 2008

Despite all of Michael Stipe’s shyness and mumbling,  if the individual tracks on both Chronic Town and Murmur had to be filed into genres like movies at a video store, many of the songs would fit comfortably in the action/adventure section.  “Wolves, Lower” is a fine example: It immediately establishes a tone of mystery and suspense that eventually shifts into a rush of adrenaline, as if the protagonist has suddenly been thrown into a fight-or-flight scenario.  Peter Buck’s crisp arpeggios do much of the work, but the thrills come courtesy of Bill Berry’s percussion, which keeps a jumpy, nervous pace without pushing the tone of the piece too close to that of outright panic. There’s a fine balance of paranoia and courage in “Wolves, Lower,” and a sense that the tune’s strange, vague nocturnal adventure is much more thrilling than it is terrifying.

30 Responses to “Wolves, Lower”

  1. jim jos Says:

    and so we have our first complete front to back album review finish with the first song off the first EP.

    I have never come up with any kind of profound meaning for this song, for some reason it accomplishes that rare feat (for me) where it simply is what it is, and while I do not know what “Suspicion yourself, suspicion yourself, don’t get caught/Suspicion yourself, suspicion yourself, let others out” means, I really don’t have to.

    Perhaps the Wolves are the band themselves, ready to disrupt the house in order, with the Posse being rounded up to take them down, really not sure.

    The main thing about this song is that it still sounds so much ahead of its time…it is insane that this song is over 25 years old. If I heard it coming from a new indie band tomorrow , I would think “wow, cool sound”.

    How baby faced the band is in the video. How great is it that there are two versions of this song, much like Gardening at Night and others from the time. The band experimenting and finding themselves in music sounds.

    Wish things would have worked out for me to go to Langerdoo tonight, the band is probably playing right now, but I am content to know that the band that put out this wonderful song in 1982 is still out there and still making vital music in 2008 and for that, I am very thankful, that, speaks volumes.

    Nice move by Matthew to put the first official album song on the night that R.E.M. kicks off their first tour in many moons. Matthew is a clever kind of fellow, this is not lost on me!


  2. Ha, that’s actually totally unintentional, Jim!

  3. jim jos Says:

    sure, just like your review of Lightning Hopkins which happened to fall on Bill Berry’s Birthday, we are all simply standing in the shadows of your master plan, good sir!

    Now I wonder if they will play this song tonight?

  4. 2fs Says:

    I think this song also gives the lie to the notion that Buck was an iffy guitarist: this is a finely composed little riff, but it’s not simple. You need nimble, accurate fingers to play it right (you can ask me, but then I’m the world’s worst guitar player, who still can’t get it right 25 years later…). Regardless: a great song, and probably my favorite track on Chronic Town.

  5. Dave Greenlizard Says:

    Surely the best-placed comma in a song title ever? Coming in half-way through their career and not having piles of cash, I remember poring over the band’s back catalogue trying to decide which album to risk my money on. This was pre-internet and I had nothing to go on except the covers and the song titles. The full stop in So. Central Rain and the comma in Wolves, Lower somehow fascinated me, they seemed to promise something very different to the music that I’d grown up with…(ok, I know I’m weird to get excited about punctuation!)

  6. Meriste Says:

    Dave, I have to agree with your assessment of the title. I’ve always been fascinated by strange names and these are just one of those songs that pull you in even with its title.

    Anyway, I love the tension with which Stipe warns, “Suspicion Yourself, don’t get caught,” and the contrasting cheerful complacency of those “house in order” vocals in the chorus.🙂

  7. Elliot H. Says:

    I LOVE THIS SONG. Probably my favourite of R.E.M.’s (along with Feeling Gravitys Pull). The song just has such a cool vibe that sounds like nothing else. I want to put “House in order” as my senior quote in my high school yearbook.

  8. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I love this song as well and it is certainly my favorite from Chronic Town. I agree with MP that their is something dark and menacing and yet confident and even hopeful in its tone. Even more amazing that all of this is expressed with words that most people (including myself) find next to impossible to make literal meaning out of.

    As for the title’s use of the comma, it is very effective. Knowing that Live idolizes REM (even name dropping Michael Stipe in a song) I’ve always wondered if their song “White, Discussion”‘s title was inspired by REM. As to punctuation in a song title, the Tragically Hip have an excellent song called “Gus: The Polar Bear From Central Park” – not everyday you see the colon used in a title!

  9. 2d Says:

    i’ve always wondered why “why not smile” doesn’t have a question mark.

  10. Andy T. Says:

    For me, whenever I hear this song I’ll remember my former boss back when I was a mechanic – I’d play a lot of my own music on the stereo at the shop, and he’d “make fun” of some of it, whenever this one would come on, he’d sing “Squishing myself, squishing myself, don’t get caught”…

  11. milesy Says:

    REM are great with punctuation ,So. Central, Wolves, Lower etc. And it works both ways: no ? in why not smile, and no ‘ in gravitys and lifes.

    The song that grabs me least from Chronic Town. But there are no weak tracks on the best EP of all time.

  12. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Milesy, you are right and I’d never considered it – Chronic Town – best EP of all time.

  13. Paul Alferink Says:

    Fantastic song. That riff, how I worked on learning to play that riff! It just isn’t played like anyone would play a guitar riff. Peter Buck isn’t a good or bad guitarist. I think he was just way different in his approach early on. Nothing sounds like the riff in “Wolves, Lower” Nothing.

  14. Clive Says:

    I agree with your comment 2fs. It is something that has crossed my mind whilst reading about Peter Buck’s early days. Someone with very limited guitar skills doesn’t write a riff like ‘Wolves, Lower’ – especially not at the speed it is played (and lets not forget the even FASTER version that is out there thanks to bootleggers)

  15. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I am guessing at least some of you are also fans of Counting Crows and I was happy and surprised to see that their new CD comes out hust before Accelerate on March 25th. I’ve always felt there was an affinity or connection between the two bands. I am also certain Counting Crows would list REM as an influence.

  16. Figgy Says:

    Back in those penniless days of my youth when I was first getting into REM, “Chronic Town” was only available in Ireland as an expensive import. That was a major barrier to me buying it. Why spend more money on 5 songs when I could just buy one of their full-length albums instead?

    This reluctance to buy “Chronic Town” meant that I first heard “Wolves, Lower” on a bootleg recording of a 1984 show in Dublin. There were some special moments in that show: “Ghostriders in the Sky” with Steve Wickham on violin, “See No Evil” and “Moon River”, to name a few. Best of all, there was “Wolves, Lower” – also with Steve Wickham on violin – which just leapt out. It sounded like nothing I’d ever heard, almost indescribable… mysterious and atmospheric… a guitar line that seemed to chime and reverberate around the venue… the amazing lift of the chorus harmonies… all complemented beautifully by Wickham’s playing. It truly sounded like something from another world. It’s great when music transcends the ordinary like that.


  17. Ha, I love Chronic Town to bits, but I think the best EP ever is Watery, Domestic.

  18. Figgy Says:

    It’s a long time since I read “Remarks” or “It Crawled From The South”. However, I’m pretty sure one of these books states that “Wolves, Lower” was written in reaction to early record company interest in the band, the record company guys being the wolves to be suspicious of. “House in Order” was a message from the band to themselves – perhaps a statement of intent – to manage their own destiny as much as possible.

  19. Meriste Says:

    Peter Buck is so underrated a guitarist, indeed. I’ve been learning guitar recently and his picking is precise, very hard for me to do.

  20. Andy Says:

    Come on Pilgrim, you know I love Pavement, but I can namecheck two bands that might have put-out better EP’s.

    …and one of them is R.E.M.

  21. Mr Cup Says:

    Lower, Wolves has more great parts than a box of Meccano!

  22. Kirsten Says:

    One of my all-time favourites. Just a brilliant masterpiece although I also do not know what it’s about. Always felt a bit of paranoia in this song. And until about 10 minutes ago, I thougt the words were “lock us out” not “let other’s out”. That’s going to be hard to get use to. And I just read the words are “Down there they’re rounding a posse to ride” not what I’ve always thought: “Don’t live around me might cause you to run”. I hate the internet, it’s ruining all my favourite songs and making a fool out of me. I can’t help wonder if I had all of the correct words before I heard a song if I’d still be so much of a fan.

    My little brother use to sing “Spit on Yourself” and that’s what he called the song. Then one day my Mum asked me why they would call a song that….

    Michael Stipe has said he doesn’t like punctuation, and that’s why it’s missing on song and album titles.

  23. Mr Cup Says:

    LOL!

  24. Kirsten Says:

    Hey jimjos, I consider both Chronic Town and Murmur to be YEARS ahead of their time and think they both would’ve done quite well if released in the ‘alternative’ period in the early 90s.

  25. milesy Says:

    BWD, I’m with you on Counting Crows- with REM and Billy Bragg albums too, 2008 is looking like a very good year indeed- whereas REM are always going somewhere new with their music, taking risks etc, I have felt for a while that the Crows are very good at what they do, but haven’t quite had that cutting edge, at least since Satellites. I still like them, though, although Hard Candy was not their best effort; and, boy, it’s taken a long time to get to a fifth studio album…

  26. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Wow, I love Hard Candy with the exception of 2 or 3 songs near the end. It’s This Desert Life that I think was the low spot.

  27. milesy Says:

    Really? I love This Desert Life, I think there’s some really strong songs there, but each to their own. They are certainly a great band to see live, good memories of those chugging guitars of Recovering the Satellites as an opening song, must be at least a decade ago now…

  28. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Figgy , great insight into the possible origin of this jewel.I ‘ve ofen wondered about the title and all.

    BWD, what song does LIVE name drop JMS ?

    Speaking of punctuation , Fionna Apple should put an ellipse in that one absurdly lenghty album title of hers,
    Blah Blah Blah […] Blah Blah Blah , much better

  29. Figgy Says:

    Cheers, Scott. As I said, it’s not really my insight, just the vague memory of something I think I might have read! I no longer have those books so I’ve no way of finding the exact quotation. It does work as a possible meaning to the song but at the same time it doesn’t really matter whether the meaning of the song can be nailed down. It just has a great sound and feel.

  30. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    The LIVE song is “People Like You” from the CD V (roman numeral 5)


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