I Wanted To Be Wrong

June 30, 2008

I looked over the entries for all of the Around The Sun songs, and I was a bit sad to realize just how much I’ve slammed that album over the course of doing this project. My opinions haven’t really changed — I may have overstated my distaste for “Leaving New York” and “Final Straw,” but let’s face it, even if I give them a bit more credit, I am not ever going to love those songs. However, I would like for you to come away from this knowing that while I can’t fully endorse Around The Sun, I don’t think it’s a total failure. If anything, the frustration of the album comes from the fact that it’s a mixed bag, and a few really great songs have to share space with half-baked duds and unsuccessful experiments.

“I Wanted To Be Wrong” is one of the album’s unqualified successes. It’s a slow, pretty folk-pop ballad that attempts to reconcile a strong feeling of alienation from George W. Bush’s America and a sense of obligation to feel empathy for people the singer views as a destructive influence on his country and the world at large. It’s a very conflicted song, but it’s surprisingly low on angst — if anything, it comes across like a defeated shrug. There is certainly some anger in the lyrics, but it’s stifled and buried as the singer looks around, struggling to understand a culture that he barely recognizes, and openly rejects his identity and ideals. He’s trying to be fair, he’s trying not to be judgmental, but he can’t help it. Ultimately, his empathy is strained, but his frustration eventually hardens into the righteous, empowered fury of Accelerate.


63 Responses to “I Wanted To Be Wrong”

  1. Jared W Says:

    I Wanted To Be First.

    I noticed the other day that “I Wanted to Be Wrong” was the most played song in my catalog. That really surprised me… I agree with MP that it’s among the best on Around the Sun (an album I don’t care for, especially relative to REM). I guess I skip that song less than the others?

  2. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I agree with you Matthew on two counts: First, this is among the better songs on Around The Sun; Second, this song is a thematic bridge, along with Final Straw, to the themes of Accelerate.

    Personally, I have a hard time separating this song from Final Straw and they are together sequentially on both ATS and REM Live, and are connected strongly by their tone and lyrical content, and while I actually prefer Final Straw, I find I Wanted To Be Wrong to be emotionally complex and a good listen musically.

    I must also add here, for a final time, that i think critics and fans alike have been too hard on Around The Sun and that it is better than Reveal as an album and is largely hurt because its tone and pacing was so similar to Reveal (its always been my argument that if ATS had been released prior to Reveal, people would complain much less about Around The Sun and much more about Reveal. While there is some filler (at least for REM) on ATS and possibly their worst song ever in the form of “The Worst Joke Ever” there are several very good songs and maybe even a great song or two: I personally have a high opnion of Leaving New York, Electron Blue, Final Straw, I Wanted To Be Wrong, Aftermath, High Speed Train, The Ascent of Man, and Around The Sun. Is it possible that another problem with ATS is that most of its weaker tracks are frontloaded on the CD? For Reveal for me there are only three very good songs: I’ve Been High, Saturn Return, Beat A Drum and many middling songs, and a couple that I can’t stand, primarily “Beachball” which rivals “Worst Joke Ever” for worst REM song ever.

    Viva Around The Sun!

    P.S. Somewhat ironically I’ve always felt that the CD titles of the two should be switched as well (yes, I realize that the titles both come from songs on the CD’s) but the summer, hazy tone of Reveal would make more sense to me as Around The Sun, while the political and personal critiques and exposes of ATS would work better as Reveal. Just a thought…

  3. adam Says:

    For me Around the Sun took about 80 listens to really appreciate. I know that sounds totally crazy and you might not want to invest that much in an album like ATS but after hearing it that much you can start to get songs like this.

    “The rodeo is staged, gold circle goat-ropers and clowns. A rumble in the third act, tie ’em up and burn ’em down. We’re armed to the teeth, born a little breech; Blue-plate special analysts, cells and SUV’s”

    That is such a perfect way for the singer to express how he feels out of place and can not understand why he is the one who feels wrong. It nails America in the 21st century – the good and the bad. The song express a lament for the way things are – not distain (like Accelerate).

    The end of the song is forced and does go a little limp but over all it is one of the highlights off ATS.

    MP – Did your mind go straight to Malkmus and Jojo’s Jacket on the Yul Brenner line? I know it’s obscure but how many Westworld references do we need?

  4. I actually can never make sense of the Yul Brenner line in this song. It makes perfect sense in “Jo Jo’s Jacket,” what with the opening quote about the freedom that comes with a loss of vanity, and it essentially being a song about freedom and quitting Pavement.

  5. Paul Alferink Says:

    The Yul Brenner reference either has to do with the violence of West World, or the fakeness of West World. Either works, but I vote for fakeness, given what the news was saying before the invastion of Iraq.

    I like ATS better than before this blog started. But I still hate it, mostly. I just found a few gems I could learned to love because of all the crap.

    I think this song is fine, but it’s really similar in my head to Final Straw and Until the Day is done. I would like this track better if it was the only one. Even then, the folk singer singing the protest song thing has been done to death, and this one is pretty paint by numbers, especially by REM’s standards. Not to sound like Simon Cowell, but you hear this sort of song on open mike night in coffee house on college campus all over. And just because I agree with them politcally doesn’t mean I don’t want to grab thier guitar when’s it’s over and smash it into the wall a la Animal House.

  6. Ben Says:

    I like this song a lot, but I agree with Matthew that the negatives of this album far outweigh the positives. I love Michael’s vocal on this song, and the strummy guitar and string section (or is it synth?) gives the whole thing a nice relaxed vibe. Very nice song.

    There are a few songs on Around The Sun that are genuinely great R.E.M. songs: this one, “Boy In The Well”, “Ascent of Man” and especially the title track are all standouts, but there’s just way too much filler on the rest of the album for it to work.

  7. ADB Says:

    Glad that this one got a good write up, it’s always been my favourite track from Around The Sun. Maybe not saying much, but still… for me this is one of the few tracks (along with Electron Blue and maybe a couple of others) where the production works for the song, rather than drowning it. Great lyric too, especially the second verse:

    “now I know that the sun has shined on my side of the street,
    the basket of America, the weevils and the wheat,
    the milk and honeyed congregation, scrubbed and apple-cheeked,
    salute Apollo 13 from the rattle jewellery seats”

    Love that Lennon reference. But most of all when Michael sings ‘I don’t understand’ it’s one of the few moments on the album where his vocal really cuts loose and soars. There’s the ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’s’ on Ascent of Man and the chorus of the title track, but generally, the lack of those elongated high notes is one of the big reasons why I find Around The Sun lacking.

  8. DGL Says:

    This song has some great qualities, as mentioned above, but it seems emblematic of what went wrong with ATS as a whole — it’s too long, too slow, over-produced, and lyrically a bit too transparent.

    If you were to just speed it up a notch, take out the annoyingly “tasteful” string-synth overdub, and drop the outro verse (where the preachiness gets way too obvious — “Destroy the things that I don’t understand”), then you’d have a solid, traditional folk-rock protest song. In other words, you’d have “Until The Day Is Done.”

  9. “I Wanted To Be Wrong” is nowhere near as dour as “Until The Day Is Done” or “Final Straw”, though. That’s one of the nice things about it — it’s a lot more pretty, more floaty.

  10. DGL Says:

    Yeah, Matthew, this song does have a more “ethereal” sound than Until The Day Is Done, especially with the aforementioned synths and “ooh” vocals after the chorus.

    And I also agree that the lyrics have an ambivalence to them that UTDID lacks — but they’re still quite “dour.” I mean, there aren’t any positive takeaways from this song.

    Ultimately the “pretty” and “floaty” aspects of the song, as you describe it, seem to work against the subject matter. “Pretty” and “floaty” made sense on Reveal; ATS, in my opinion, should have had a more raw sound — given the rawness of the subject matter. That’s why, for me, UTDID is (to oversimplify a bit) a more successful version of I Wanted To Be Wrong.

  11. ScottMalobisky Says:

    BWD, discovered today there really is a The Descent Of Man :), it’s a writing by Darwin, 1871… just a little aside there…….

  12. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Paul, you’re cracking me up (again)

  13. jim jos Says:

    good write up and good comments as usual. I, too, caught up on the Lennon reference when I first heard it, and then later on I heard an interview with Michael and he pointed it out. I thought this was very interesting that Michael would pick up on that, and had never heard, Tomorrow Never Knows, for instance. So interesting.

    I really would like to see the Yul Brynner movie. Mainly because of this song.

    Yeah, this is a good one.

  14. Mr Cup Says:

    I have only just started to enjoy this song. I was going to credit this blog with my new found appreciation then I realised it hadn’t been done yet. There’s some collateral effect I’m sure.

    Has anyone seen ‘Spring, summer, autumn, winter, spring again’?
    This kid is forced to lug a large rock, tied to his waist as penance for doing the same thing to some animals. The weight of the stones causes the deaths of the small animals. That seems to be the problem here. The deadweight suffocates the good stuff.

    The Westworld reference was probably the hook that got me into this song, but it is still a folk song. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    The line at the end ‘Do you recognise the madman who is shouting in the streets’ makes me think of Life and How to Live It. A good thing in itself, but it seems to tie into the theme of this song of two distinct sides and the inability to communicate with the other.

  15. Really good call on relating that line to “Life and How To Live It,” Mr Cup.

  16. Rob Says:

    I’ve been waiting for this one. I agree that Around The Sun has too many great songs to be dismissed as a failure, as it has in too many places. Electron Blue, Boy In The Well, The Ascent of Man I still love, and I’m a great apologist for Leaving New York too.
    This has to be the albums best song, with such evocative poetic lyrics,
    “Salute Apollo 13 from the rattle jewellery seats”. In lesser hands it could sound clumsy, but here it works just fine.
    As a protest song this works so much better than Final Straw, where the directness can seem a little clumsy.

  17. maclure Says:

    Is the rattle jewelry line a reference to Lennon who said it first about the Royalty who liked the Beatles?
    I`m writing this on my birthday. Let`s just say I`m no longer in my mid-20s.

    For whatever reason (and I`m bracing myself for the levy of tomatoes) this song was my most-skipped on Around the Sun with the preceeding Make it all OK the one I always listened to… Only since the live album last year have I started to see some beauty in I Wanted to Be Wrong. It`s still just too laboured for me – Final Straw is better and Until the Day is Done is FAR better than both.

  18. Rob Says:

    I always assumed that the “rattle jewellery seats” obliquiley referenced John Lennon, but refered to the over-privilidged who support the way as long as it’s the poor under-educated kids in the frontlines. “Destroy the things that I don’t understand” could refer as easily to the shock and awe destruction of Baghdad as it could to evangelicals spouting homophobic rhetoric and denying evolution or global warming, and also to people who would attack the World Trade Centre. Yeah I prefer Until The Day Is Done as a song, but this is seriously nuanced.

  19. Dark Bob Says:

    At the very least, this song is just another example of what a great lyricist Stipe is.

  20. 4trak Says:

    Dang, I thought U2008 might overtake Pop Songs, but it seems it won’t. Unless MP takes forever to do the last 6 songs or so.

    To be honest, I much prefer “Final Straw”, so this song gets lost amidst that.

  21. Paul Alferink Says:

    “and I`m bracing myself for the levy of tomatoes”

    I’m not going to levy tomatoes at you because you like this ok song worse than a pretty bad one. That would be like levying tomatoes at you because you liked Colin Quinn over Kevin Nealon. Sure, Quinn was awful, but Kevin wasn’t memorable. You’re wrong, but I wouldn’t waste the tomato.

  22. maclure Says:

    That’s a relief, Paul, many thanks.

  23. Paul Alferink Says:

    No problem. I mean, I don’t want you to get salmonella or anything.

  24. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Scott, really? Never heard of it? Do you think that book has had any cultural impact? Being a historian I will have to look into it and this Darwin fellow…


  25. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Wow! Somebody up above here mentioned there was a U2008 so I went and read a few posts there (I may have to say a few things too) but reading the music critic there made me realize how excellent Matthew is. Thanks for your insight, passion, and literary skill MP. The writer for U2008 is decent,and his/her comments are solid and sometimes informative, but he/she is no Matthew Perpetua.

  26. Rich Says:

    Man, this is the most profoundly boring song in the band’s entire catalog. Not a highlight on Around the Sun for me, though I’m not sure what is. Also not the worst track on ATS, thanks to Worst Joke Ever. But the meandering chord progression, deathly tempo, syrupy strings… ewww. Not seeing whatever some of you are seeing. Relatively meaningful lyrics just aren’t going to compensate for the music.

  27. jim jos Says:

    when the Beatles were invited to play in front of the queen in 1963, Lennon said at the show “Will the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewelry” it was one of my favorite quotes. A real, kind of punk, observation on what matters most to the mega rich. I was real thrilled when I heard in this song. Anybody seen WestWorld? I guess Yul is a robotic gunslinger in that one. I like the references in this song, Stipe really did some of his best lyrics on these otherwise meh songs.

  28. jft Says:

    this is one of the better songs on Around The Sun, indeed. Well, apart from “Wanderlust” and “Around The Sun”, there are no songs out of the question, they are all listenable (apart from those two, I really don’t like listening to them). Same with Reveal – the low end being “Summer Turns To High” and “Beachball” there. The main difference is – the other song on Reveal are definitely great songs (as are all on Up), some even highlights. Around The Sun comes nowhere near this, they’re all quite okay, but… there’s nothing much special about it. this is why, over the years, this album became my least favourite R.E.M. album.

  29. Kirsten Says:

    Happy Birthday, Maclure.

    I agree that this song and Final Straw seem to be joined at the hip. That’s what’s wrong with them both. If they were seperated from each other on the album, they would both benefit greatly. Much better live, love the “ooh”s (as someone else mentioned earlier).
    Not a great song, not bad either.

  30. Andy T. Says:

    I’ve always liked this one – the song Around the Sun is still “the one” that grabbed me first on the album and remains my favorite as a result, but this one isn’t a bad tune either.

    About it be joined with Final Straw, for me, after I ripped all my REM CDs to my computer, I decided not to assign them track numbers, just dumping them into folders named by song title – so consequently when I listen to the albums now the songs are in alphabetical order instead of album order. In some cases that has made for better listening, and with this song it effectively “divroced” it from Final Straw. (Well, it inserted High Speed Train in between them.)

    I have to say, this morning I read the first posts in this thread and then put on my cordless headphones and went outside and mowed my lawn listening to the whole ATS album. Really I don’t think the album is as bad as some has made it out to be. A bit bland at times, but the songs have some interesting arrangements and instrumentation to them. I think most songs including this one would benefitted from more of Mike Mills singing background instead of Stipe. (I was glad to have Mike’s voice restored on Accelerate.)

  31. milesy Says:

    The reason I appreciate this one is that, while I agree it may not be the most orignal song in the REM catalogue, it expressed my frustrations about the war at the time so well. Although it’s hardly the first folk-rock protest song, it does have some really great lyrics: I always appreciated ‘we can’t approach the allies cos they seem a little peeved…’ Ever wonder if there was a reason for that, Messrs Bush and Blair?? I also kind of liked the extra lyrics on the sheet for a verse that wasn’t sung…

    I’ve made my comments on Around the Sun as an album before, as you may remember. Despite the weight of opinion, I still really like it, with three or four exceptions (especially Wanderlust!), but can’t really defend this! Beethoven Was Deaf said it better in his first post above, anyway, although I would want to add Boy in the Well as one of the best songs, rather than Ascent of Man.

    What a relief to get online today for the firsttime in over a week and find that this blog is not over yet. Slow down!!

  32. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Milesy, I am truly appreciative of your support on this but Wanderlust is very bad.

  33. adam Says:

    sentiment and lyrics are great.. but its just so boring. whereas I think Leaving New York and the song ATS, are just masterpieces that bookend the record.

  34. adam Says:

    my 1 year old (at the time) loved Wanderlust. thats about all I can say about that. but glad it made her happy in the car

  35. ScottMalobisky Says:

    it seems that ATS , more than any REM album , seems to initiate a lot of tangential pro and con sorta discussion about the album in general…..when a song from it is posted…

  36. Kevin Says:

    I’m in the pro-ATS crowd, but this song really doesn’t do it for me. I’m with Rich above: Much like Matthew Fox in Knocked Up (and “The Lifting” on Reveal), nothing about this song strikes me in any way. It’s perfectly bland.

    That being said, I’ll stand by “Boy in the Well,” “Wanderlust,” “High Speed Train,” and “The Outsiders” in particular, and really feel that AtS gets a bad rap.

  37. Kirsten Says:

    “My 1-year old loved Wonderlust”
    That sums up Wonderlust.

  38. Tim Says:

    This song wins most boring of the REM catalogue for me. I just can’t get into it. In the bottom 3 of ATS in my opinion. Maybe I need to give it a few more listens.

    I like ATS on the whole, however, and stick up for it whenever I can.

  39. Ignis Sol Says:

    I have always liked “I Wanted to Be Wrong.” To my ears and senses, it is a stand out. It is the dark side of a national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” in this case.

    Michael’s pouty and earnest delivery is heartfelt and urgent.

    What’s up with the unsung verse that is included in the book?
    Prop up The Omega Man, we’re primed for victory,
    God gave us the upper hand, there’s honor among thieves.
    Temper it with arrogance, a dash of sad conceit.
    The top’s down on the T-Bird, we’re the children of the free

    Any ideas or opinions on this?

  40. Paul Alferink Says:

    He sings that verse. Promise.

  41. ScottMalobisky Says:

    is it true that when the Europeans first came to America that they literally fooled the Idians in some very calculated instances, fooled them into thinking that the White Dogs were gods by having fore-knowledge of major celestial events occuring, ie, eclipses….then they would say to the Indians (paraphrasing), “Hey , check it out. There’s gonna be this huge event in the sky”……you know….And then, of course, when it happened the Indians thought the Almighty Whitey had the power, dig ??? Did that really happen , or is that just one of those myths that kinda grew along the timeline? That same sorta thing happened with guns, imagine how freaked out the unschooled in the art of the gun Indian must’ve been..I mean , you point this metal tube at this dude over yonder there and his head falls off with a splatter and a bang. And , of course , there was all those Spanish Explorers brutalizing the indigineous peoples in the name of gold and Jesus. How truly fucked up it all really was.

  42. ScottMalobisky Says:

    last year our July 4th song was Ignoreland

  43. kjl Says:

    our last july 4th entry…and the winner is-
    and the final song?

  44. Kirsten Says:

    Ignis: I imagine that they cut it simply because the song is too long. Maybe they voted that to be the worst verse?

  45. Rob Says:

    Anyone who came over to Dublin last year for the live rehearsals might be interested to know that the weather has been just as shit this year.
    However, this morning the sun is shining and I can look forward to new albums from Conor Oberst and the Hold Steady. (Hold Steady Steady. Hold Steady Steady. I don’t wanna go till I’m good and ready)

  46. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Ignis, I lke that verse. Yeah, I really like it , “God gave us the upper hand.” Ain’t that the fucking truth.

  47. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Rob , I would love to have some of that Dublin misty gray about now. We’re in the middle of the “blaring blue” season here–BIG TIME—I mean, I’ve always been a sun worshipper and all, and I certainly love a nice sunny day…….But here in these parts, you get these long stretches of nothing but totally sunny days “blaring blue”, oppressive almost, once the marine layer burns off it’s in your face and it’s like damn turn it off already, gimme a litle change, day after day (See that. I’m the master of finding the negative. I can even diss a perfectly, gorgeous American Day, to die for weather actually….but..)

    looking up the new Hold Steady on Rhapsody
    no standing on the roof-top ready to fall

  48. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Hey Cup,
    I just discovered THe Tentacle in my junk email, my computer doesn’t know any better. Then I accidentally erased it..Please resend….._______THANX

    stiil waiting for photo of Perpetua

  49. ScottMalobisky Says:

    for some strange reason I always imagine MP to look like Matthew Bodine, except more intellectual looking, the right glasses

  50. jim jos Says:

    “Sandy the fireworks are hailing over Little Eden tonight
    Forcing a light into all those stoned-out faces left
    stranded on this fourth of July”

  51. Rob Says:

    Scott, I’d swap that blaring blue oppressiveness for a few days at least, though I gotta agree that too much would be too much even for me. Had a thought last night… We’ve already had Patti Smith, Q-Tip, KRS1 and Kate Pierson feature on albums and Thom Yorke and Natalie Merchanr elsewhere. Are there any other guest vocalist we’d like to see on an REM track? I’d go for PJ Harvey or Mark Linkous, Jenny Lewis or Cat Power. Be interested in hearing other peoples suggestions.

  52. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I would like to maybe hear the bands work with Tim Booth of James (btw their new CD is solid), Ryan Adams, Gordon Downie (of The Tragically Hip), Sinead O’Connor, Ben Gibbard (DCFC/Postal Service) and maybe even Eddie Vedder or Bono because not only would it be cool but would likely get them a little press as well.

  53. ScottMalobisky Says:

    Listening to ATS right now. This is an AWESOME album, really is. You just have to be totally stressed out and at the end of one’s tether to really appreciate it, it really strikes me as an amazing record sometimes.

    Viable guest vocalist on REM album ? T-Dog
    whoof whoof

  54. ScottMalobisky Says:

    singing along to this album very loudly..
    “You’re not hurting anybody’s else’s chances
    But you’re disfiguring your own..”
    love that walking like a big wham bam part
    hold on to this boy a little longer
    oh, what a exhilarating purging dissipation of the demons of the sensless, restless night
    oh, if only the boys could hear me
    those powers that be
    whoof whoof
    la la la la la la la
    nah nah nah nah nah nah
    la la la la la la la
    nah nah nah nah nah nah
    whoof whoof
    YEAH ! I think I hear the neighbors clapping or is that the shutters slamming shut behind his blue-filmed vulture eye ?

  55. Kirsten Says:

    Try googling Matthew Parpetua. I haven’t tried it, but you never know, you might come across something…

  56. Mr Cup Says:

    Whenever I hear ‘googling’ I think of young young ladies lustily observing desirable young men.

    I also keep singing the current song (on a maddening loop) until the next one is posted. Even shuffle mode on iPod has played it several times in last few days.

  57. milesy Says:

    Just need to clarify here for Beethoven Was Deaf from last week: when I say ‘especially Wanderlust’, I mean it’s especially bad, not good!
    Good news. My broadband got connected again today, and popsongs hasn’t finished yet. I thought I might miss the end of the ride…

  58. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Sorry there milesy, I misunderstood… That’s the trouble with language, sometimes you think you couldn’t speak any more plainly and yet, to everyone else, you sound like Michael Stipe via Murmur.

  59. ScottMalobisky Says:

    I say , Hey do ya speaka my language?
    He just smiled and gave me a vegemite sandwich..

  60. Kirsten Says:

    Mmmm vegemite…..

  61. ScottMalobisky Says:

    funny, Kirsten , you say to google MP, I can’t even find a photo of Matthew Bodine !…, although for some bizarre reason I picture MP to look like him…….and I’m not even sure what MB looks like…….(a small glimpse of how my mind works)

    took a Career/Personlity asessment test for school, I am an IAS Investigative-Artistic-Social–“a hard case”; my weakest areas are R-Realistic, C-Conventional, E-Enterprising…… not surprising……

  62. milesy Says:

    six foot tall and full of muscles.
    Or is that MP..?

  63. griffith Says:

    Like many fans, I find ATS as my least favorite R.E.M. album. As a whole, it just does not work for me. The pacing, the arrangements, the production just seem so slow and over done.

    However, when I listen to songs from ATS in ‘shuffle’ mode, mixed with other songs from the entire R.E.M. catalog – some of these songs really stand out. This is one of them.

    The album is a mixed bag, whose parts are greater than its sum.

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