Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Certain Songs #1736: R.E.M. – “Sweetness Follows” | Medialoper

Album: Automatic For the People
Year: 1992

. . .

File Under Sweetness

I guess the most surprising thing about “Sweetness Follows” is how long it took R.E.M. to write a song that sounded like “Sweetness Follows,” which sounds a lot like Big Star’s Third as filtered through Murmur.

With Peter Buck strumming an acoustic guitar that alternated space with an organ that he also played, and cellist Knox Chandler playing a cello run through an amplifier, “Sweetness Follows” sets up a billowing cloud of melancholy sound for Michael Stipe to try to top — or bottom out — with his opening verse about death and aging.

Readying to bury your father and your mother
What did you think when you lost another?
I used to wonder why did you bother
Distanced from one, blind to the other
Listen here, my sister and my brother
What would you care if you lost the other?
I always wonder why did we bother
Distanced from one, blind to the other

Stipe’s vocals are swathed in reverb, adding to the feeling of heaviness, desperation and loss, which is then almost instantly countered by the chorus.

Oooooooh-ooooooh-ooooh-hoooh-hoh, sweetness follows

I mean, after all, the guy who just sang everybody hurts, so hold on” a couple of songs previously wasn’t going to go full bummer, so the second verse is even more of a counterweight to the first.

It’s these little things, they can pull you under
Live your life filled with joy and wonder
I always knew this altogether thunder
Was lost in our little lives

Honestly, I find “Live your life filled with joy and wonder” to be the best advice on the album, and honestly, one of my favorite Michael Stipe lyrics. And also an increasingly difficult thing to pull off in this awful, terrible first month of 2020. Which means, I guess, you gotta try harder? I guess?

After that, Peter Buck — pretty much the only member of R.E.M. who plays on “Sweetness Follows” since it’s based on one of his demos — unleashes an ongoing torrent of controlled feedback that dances in circles with the cello and organ until “Sweetness Follows” just drifts away.

“Sweetness Follows”

“Sweetness Follows” live in Switzerland, 1999

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