So. Central Rain

June 15, 2008

Despite its title, I’ve always associated “So. Central Rain” with wide open blue skies. Here’s my explanation: The song doesn’t take place during the storm; it’s in the time immediately after the deluge.

That’s Reckoning for you — nearly every song on the record in some way deals with the aftermath of an event, and at least half of them are traumatic. It’s an album about mourning your losses, taking stock of changes, owning up to guilt, and, in the end, moving on. In this way, the recurring theme of water in the lyrics is extremely appropriate. Just as with the fire of Document, the floods of Reckoning are destructive, but also purifying. There may be panic and trauma on Reckoning, but it’s ultimately a record about finding maturity after a period of chaos. 

“So. Central Rain” revisits the theme of communication from Murmur, but it’s notable that the inability to communicate has nothing to do with the singer’s social awkwardness, and everything to do with circumstance: The phones are down. Even aside from the chorus (“I’m sorry!”), a sense of guilt permeates every lyric and melodic turn in the song, implying that the anxiety related to the missed phone calls is symptomatic of a nagging conscience. The composition chugs along with a mellow grace — I suppose the body of the song could be described as ersatz country rock meets ersatz R&B — but it eventually reaches a sudden, cathartic vamp that rivals only “You” from Monster as being the most angst-ridden finale in the R.E.M. discography.


28 Responses to “So. Central Rain”

  1. ScottMalobisky Says:


  2. Mr Cup Says:

    Another classic. Luckily I’m no good at math so this definitely top 5, along with the other 20 or so.

    A town cut off by a flood. Ooh the spooky similarities of my childhood return.

    The opening riff is great but the outro is killer. Classic.

  3. Dark Bob Says:

    Oh yeah, another of their finest. Timeless.

  4. Brian Says:

    Was this the next scheduled song, or did Jones Beach influence this one too?

    Easily one of my favorite vocal performances in the R.E.M. catalog. You put it well – it’s yearns to shed all of the angst/guilt that builds up.

    I don’t think that the alternate vocal track in the video does the song justice.

  5. gluefoot Says:

    my favourite r.e.m. song
    it’s peerless
    the vocal outro shakes me to my core every time
    have to disagree with brian regarding the video, it’s also my favourite r.e.m. video and i find its vocal take wonderful

  6. Well, since there’s only a few songs left, this one was obviously in the pipeline, but the performance I saw on Saturday night pushed it to the top of the pile. There’s no real schedule for the remaining songs, except for the final one.

  7. Mr Cup Says:

    Were you expecting anything when you started this project Matthew, or was it just something you felt like doing?

  8. Paul Alferink Says:

    Love the song. Easily a stand-out on reckoning. I read Michael (who sang in wierd places when recording). Recorded this song outside of the studio at the top of some stairs. On the last I’m Sorry, he threw his head so far back he fell down the stairs and broken the microphone. Appearantly this is why the song his that real pinched off end on the last note.

  9. Paul Alferink Says:

    I’m not counting “Have you ever seen the Rain?” as I suspect that was a last minute addition.

  10. jimmania07 Says:

    I’m guessing the last song will be Country Feedback 🙂

  11. davegassner Says:

    I can’t remember Matt; does Malkmus mention this one in “Unseen Power of the Picket Fence”?

  12. Rob Says:

    I thought the last song might be Country Feedback, but now I’m guessing it might be something more appropriate to the end of this blog as we know it….

  13. davegassner Says:

    He hasn’t done that one yet?! I think it’s an open and shut case then. Then again, that’s what I said about Electrolite; I think Matt throws a curveball here and there.

  14. maclure Says:

    For whatever reason this song never really floated my boat. I like it, but there are many better by REM in my eyes.

  15. Steve Rachbach Says:


    I respect that. Coming after the very promising, paradigm-busting 1-2 start of Chronic Town and Murmur, South Central Rain was a revelation. Somewhere, in the first verse, I started (don’t laugh), seeing visions. Everytime since, when that phrase is played (even it is in the background), I am in the water under a dock seeing moss and algae growing on a wooden piling. It seems like an electrode has been placed in my brain that triggers a memory; and that electrode is somehow turned on by the exact combination of words, voice and music in that verse. That was the first time I ever experienced a vision listening to music, without…um… pharmaceutical help. Since then, REM has gone on to write quite a few “evocative” songs such as Country Feedback, Nightswimming, Find The River, I’ve Been High, and Until The Day Is Done. I always thought up until the time of Reckoning (I was in my mid-20s at that time) that popular music was great entertainment and fun. After South Central Rain, popular music was elevated to a high art form.

  16. jim jos Says:

    some comments directed at all my other fanatical r.e.m. friends.

    The last song is going to be Whats the Frequency Kenneth. Because, it comes from Matthews favorite R.E.M. record and the fact that it has not been covered yet, seems a bit telling.

    Yes, this is the first song mentioned in the Pavement song. Though, I think for the lyrics to be true in that song, they should change the lyrics to Flashback to 1982…Chronic Town did rule the school.

    Never heard that about Michael falling down the stairs during the ending, now I just see him rolling down the stairs as though he was in I’m Gonna Git ya Sucka.

  17. Ignis Sol Says:

    I have fond memories of “So. Central Rain.” It was one of those early songs that hooked me. I have strong visuals associated with this song: trees bending, oceans singing, downed lines, wise men… and then, “I’m sorry!” I listened to this back when I was the only one who listened to R.E.M. In fact, I was the only one who knew who they were.

    I heard this song before I ever saw them perform, before I knew what they looked like. So, those images are locked in my mind forever. The melody is alluring and the music composition is hypnotic. Like, Mr Cup, it is one of twenty that is in my top 5!

  18. Dark Bob Says:

    “You are the everything” is my prediction for last song.

  19. Kirsten Says:

    This was my favourite for quite a while, and the reason I purchased Reckoning. One of the most powerful endings in a song – ever.

    Brian – I really don’t think the vocals are much different on the video. The only thing it’s missing is the power & emotion at the end – but it’s still not bad. But it could just be that I’m tone deaf.

  20. ScottMalobisky Says:

    this song reminds me of the Old Town Section of Knoxville, a personal history thing

  21. davegassner Says:

    (Listening to the ending again)

    …I wonder what other in-studio disasters they’ve never mentioned.

  22. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    This song, along with Driver 8 and a few others are the core of my “southern gothic” theory. This song is haunting. Flawless. Beautiful. Whenever I hear the “I’m sorry!” refrain and the pain in Stipe’s voice it makes me think of the scene from the movie Simon Birch where Simon runs out on the dock and yells “I’m sorry!” to God for accidentally killing his best friend’s mom. It’s a heartbreaking cry, just like Stipe’s in this song, and it happens to be the same words.

  23. ScottMalobisky Says:

    It makes me think of an REM song, er,I forget the title.

  24. Purplebee Says:

    This is one of my favourite remsongs. Takes me right back emotionally to where I was when I first heard Reckoning all those million years ago. Always makes me feel alone and hey I’m alone again apart from the kids but life is a circle is it not – perfect or otherwise.
    Always feel the emotion through this songis so strong and authentic. Love it !

  25. Calvin Says:

    These write-ups are just great, but the music. The music is transcendent.

  26. adam Says:

    this, to me, has always been the quintessential REM song.. and this thread has one of the fewest number of comments.

  27. DC Says:

    these rivers of suggestion are driving me away is so stunning. just stunning.

  28. […] discography as of 1984, with a decided focus on Reckoning and its tracklisting. Though I knew “So. Central Rain” and “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” at the time because I had a dubbed copy of […]

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