R.E.M. continues to give fans sneak peeks into “Collapse Into Now,” the group’s March 8 album. Today, we get “Oh My Heart,” which premiered on NPR. And listening to it makes me feel like a big old crank. The ballad is about New Orleans, post Katrina, and opens (and then quickly abandons the idea) with mournful horns, straight out of a Crescent City dirge.
As Michael Stipe told NPR, “It's a very quiet and very meditative song dedicated to New Orleans — about New Orleans. Jacknife [Lee] is great as a producer, because he saw that we were struggling with what is a very quiet song. We were standing really far away from each other in the room, and it was hard not only to actually physically hear each other, but it felt dispersed. He brought us into the middle, and instantly, of course, the song worked.”
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Lyrically, the mandolin-based song hits all the right political notes: the storm didn’t do the ultimate damage, the government did, but the city’s resilient heart keeps beating, and Stipe’s heart beats in time with it. The lugubrious song is so honest and well-intentioned and I never care if I hear it again, despite Stipe's impassioned, yet restrained, delivery.
Luckily (for me, I’m sure R.E.M. doesn’t care), I feel exactly the opposite about the far more melodic “It Happened Today,” featuring Eddie Vedder (and a healthy dose of mandolin), especially with Mike Mills’ singing along at the end. I’ve always felt he was underutilized vocally in the band (don’t even try to disagree with me until you’ve gone back and listened to “Superman” at least 10 times). Here’s the weird thing-- for years, people complained that Stipe mumbled so much that it was impossible to understand what he was saying. That changed years ago, but I think I liked it better when we couldn’t understand what he was saying. Is that so wrong?
Hear "Oh My Heart" here.