Fall On Me
April 26, 2008
In terms of craft, “Fall On Me” may very well be the finest pop song in the R.E.M. catalog. Like many of the best pop tunes, it lands in that rare sweet spot between complexity and simplicity in which every element of the song flows together so perfectly that the listener is so caught up in the effect of the composition that they may never stop to consider its components.
Hey, you know what? Let’s stop to consider the components.
1. There are several guitars — both acoustic and electric — playing on “Fall On Me,” but the arrangement is so light and airy that even when the song thickens on the chorus, the piece still feels light and airy. The shift in textures from one moment to the next is exceptionally subtle, and the mix is so crisp and clean that it’s hard to imagine there were actually any overdubs at all.
2. Mike Mills absolutely shines on this song. Most obviously, his high harmony vocals provide a crucial counterpoint hook in the chorus, but perhaps more importantly, his bass line lends the composition both a sense of lateral motion and emotional weight. Whereas Michael Stipe’s vocals and Peter Buck’s guitar arpeggios seem to either ascend or hover over the ground, Mills parts tether the piece to the ground, and give voice to the understated melancholy at the heart of the song.
3. Though the lyrics of “Fall On Me” are somewhat vague for what essentially amounts to a protest song calling attention to our complicity in the deterioration of our natural environment, Michael Stipe’s voice and vocal melody is especially earnest and straight-forward. Arguably, this is the first truly mature performance of his career, and among the first Stipe performances to fully trade out slurred phrasing for a skewed approximation of R&B and gospel melisma.
4. Without Bill Berry, “Fall On Me” would be just another pretty folk-pop song. Without upsetting the tone of the piece, his performance on the drums is remarkably brisk and assertive, which keeps the song from coming across as either wimpy or ethereal. Basically, the band applied 80s production value — loud, reverbed, hard-hitting drums — to a 60s-style harmony-driven pop tune, and the result is something that feels rather timeless. If Mills’ parts connect the song to the ground, Berry’s parts (including his low vocal harmonies) are the earth itself — heavy, steady, and firm.