Imitation Of Life
June 14, 2008
“Imitation Of Life,” a song trapped in the middle of an album that could not decide whether it wanted to be space-age pop or a sun-soaked vacation in affluence and muted neuroses, is so close to the classic archetype of an R.E.M. composition that it sounds almost as though the band deliberately tried to write something that sounded like themselves. Given the limited commercial potential for the other songs on Reveal, it seems somewhat likely that the band felt the pressure to deliver a sure-fire single. It’s just as likely that they — consciously or not — needed a song that grounded the record, and tied its more experimental moments to their earlier work. It definitely does the trick. If you have any love for IRS-era R.E.M., the song’s jangly guitars and lush harmonies have a sort of Pavlovian effect, making it easy to like, even if you can’t quite connect to it on an emotional level.
Lyrically, the song comes across as late period Michael Stipe boilerplate; another in his series of pep talk songs directed to frightened and confused younger listeners. “Imitation Of Life” has a pleasant sentiment and some nice imagery — I’m particularly fond of the references to literally sweet things in the chorus — but like the rest of the song, it can’t help but feel a bit recycled and overly familiar. (Almost as if to prove my point that the lyrics are Stipe-ish to the point of self-parody, the message of the song has essentially been re-written as “Supernatural Superserious” on Accelerate.)