Thursday, February 20, 2020

Certain Songs #1755: R.E.M. – “The Lifting” | Medialoper

Album: Reveal
Year: 2001

. . .

File Under Never

Reveal came out during a particularly difficult period in my life, a phrase I’ve never written about any other R.E.M. album. Oh, wait, that was pretty much most of them in the 80s and early 90s. In this particular case, it was during one of the three major unemployment phases I’ve had in my life, one where at the end of it, I found myself in a place where I’d never thought I’d live: Los Angeles.

In any event, moving to L.A. was only beginning to be considered when Reveal came out in May, 2001, as I’d only just become unemployed and was positive that I’d find something in my beloved Bay Area, despite the very real effects of the dot-com bust at the time.

The one positive about all of it was that I’d found myself writing about music for an actual online publication,, Michael Goldberg’s now-defunct follow-up site to his then-defunct pioneering Addicted to Noise, which was one of my favorite places in the very very early web days. So it was a bit of a thrill to be writing about the new R.E.M. album for Goldberg — even if it was, sigh, for free — and tossing my recent unemployment into the mix, I think it all added up to me initially overrating Reveal when it came out, giving it an 8 out 10.

Two decades later, I think that’s the most off I’ve ever been about an R.E.M. album, as nowadays, I pretty much boil Reveal down to two songs that I truly love: the single, “Imitation of Life,” about which more tomorrow, and the opening track, “The Lifting,” which starts with electronic burbling and muttering voices, a la Up, but then transforms into something completely different the second Michael Stipe starts singing.

Grounded 5 a.m
The night lite is comforting
But gravity is holding you
Once settled into sleep
You have watched on repeat
The story of your life
Across the ceiling
And in review

One of the things that R.E.M. has said about Reveal was that the sessions were relaxed, with auxiliary members Ken Stringfellow, Scott McCaughey and Joey Waronker fully integrated with the core of Stipe, Mills and Buck. Not so integrated that they got any songwriting credit, but integrated enough that Waronker’s jumping drumbeat is at the core of “The Lifting.”

You’ve said the air was singing
It’s calling you you don’t believe
These things you’ve never seen

Apparently, Michael Stipe has said that “The Lifting” is a prequel to “Daysleeper,” a song that I almost wrote about (sorry!), and if so, it might be the reason that she got a night-time job, because “The Lifting” makes references to seminars and conference rooms and a search for meaning in life.

Or something. “The Lifting” isn’t on of those R.E.M. songs where I really paid attention to lyrics, instead, I just loved the big thick stew of keyboards, a drum beat that was obviously played by a human, and Peter Buck’s loud guitar solo at the end. Oh and the climax, where Michael Stipe sings:

Never, never, never, never
Never, never, never, never
Never, never, never, never
Never, never, never, never
Never, never, never

It’s just a really cool-sounding opening tune, which they hadn’t done since “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” and had they tossed a few more songs like “The Lifting” on Reveal along with the three (!) Beach Boys homages and perfectly fine long slow ones like “All The Way To Reno” and “I’ll Take The Rain,” it might have aged better, even if the songs were administered in this and all worlds by Warner-Tamerlaine music.

Oh, and check out the live version below, where Waronker really works it.

“The Lifting”

“The Lifting” live in Koln, 2001

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