Monday, March 2, 2020

Certain Songs #1764: R.E.M. – “It Happened Today” | Medialoper

Album: Collapse Into Now
Year: 2011

. . .

File Under Hooray

After the tour to support Accelerate, Michael Stipe decided that he didn’t want to tour anymore, their second WB contract was ending, Peter Buck suggested that maybe they break up, Mike Mills agreed, and so R.E.M. went into the studio to make one last last album, essentially free to do whatever they wanted.

So, naturally, they made an R.E.M. album, pulling out pretty much all of their bag of tricks: jangly guitars, gorgeous harmonies, dumbass rockers, piano-driven ballads, special guest vocals, swirly experimentation. That was 2011’s Collapse Into Now, as fine of a purposely final album as you’re ever going to find.

If you were an R.E.M. fan and had stuck it out this long — which of course, I was and had — you weren’t going to find anything new on Collapse Into Now, which meant, I guess that it wasn’t strictly necessary. On the other hand, if you were an R.E.M. and had stuck it out this long — which of course, I was and had — there was still pleasure in how Stipe, Buck & Mills (plus Bill Reiflin and Scott McCaughey) could mine new pleasures from old strategies.

The chief pleasure — to me anyways — was “It Happened Today” which starts off with some jangling acoustic guitar and an hushed Michael Stipe vocal.

This is not a parable
This is a terrible
This is a terrible thing
Yes I will rhyme that after
After all I’ve done today
I have earned my wings

Which leads directly to the chorus, Mike Mills right there on harmonies while Stipe continues to be low key.

It happened today
Hip hip hooray

Of course, as it moves forward, “It Happened Today” piles on the guitars — that’s a given — and then in the second half, it does something brand-new for an R.E.M. song, a long, extended celebratory chorus that is all shouts: Stipe, Mills and special guest Eddie Vedder all singing variations of “huuuuuuuuhhhhh-uuuuuuuuuuuuuu-hhhhheeeeyyyy” while complementary horns and even handclaps (!) make their way in and out of the mix.

Of course, when Collapse Into Now came out, they made a big deal of Eddie Vedder being on this track, but honestly, it kinda reminded me of when Tattoo You came out and they made a big deal about Pete Townshend supposedly being on the track “Slave,” and after nearly 40 years, I’ve still never heard him on that song.

Vedder fares better, at least you can hear him at the end, but of course the voices joined together is most of the fun of that back half of “It Happened Today,” which sounds as joyous and celebratory as any R.E.M. song ever.

“It Happened Today”

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