Night Garden: Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe [R.E.M.]1981-1996 Song-by-song*

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Lance LaSalle, May 23, 2021.

  1. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    I think this song is a gorgeous 6/8 song, in the tradition of others like "Swan Swan H", "Half A World Away", but I find it much more resonant emotionally due to the lyric being something I can sink my teeth into, so to speak.

    The melody is beautiful, a classic folk song, and I love the three vocal parts. The way the feedback guitar comes in gives the song an edge that suits a song about impending death and strange the mix of sadness and satisfaction and love that the lyric's protagonist feels. Mike's Lennon-esque backing vocal is sublime.

    This was a standout for me the first time I heard this album, and I gotta be honest: when I first was getting into this album in the winter of 1993, I definitely was convinced Michael was writing about himself and that he was dying (probably of AIDS.) I later found out that was a widespread rumor, but I never heard the rumor, I just came to that conclusion from listening to the album.
    I was sure that this was going to be R.E.M.'s final album. (And, personally, if it had been, I think their output would have been basically perfect.) I'm glad he wasn't dying and I'm glad that this wasn't their final album, even if I don't think they ever rose to these heights again.

    Kudos to Michael for writing an album that concerns mortality as one of its major themes while not actually dying.

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  2. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    Dammit. Thanks. I'll redo...My dog (literally) ate the paper my figures were on before.
  3. TheGoodDoctor

    TheGoodDoctor It used to go something like that

    I’m always sceptical of a review proclaiming any album is one of the greatest ever made. Though to be fair to AFTP there are some markedly worse albums which have had that accolade bestowed upon them (plus in the 90s the hack was probably plied with booze and class As by the record company PRs which probably helped with the exuberance)
  4. TheGoodDoctor

    TheGoodDoctor It used to go something like that

    Try Not to Breathe. Always been a curious song to me, certainly picks up the mood, if not the pace following Drive. But it doesn’t really go anywhere.

    I would have liked them to intertwine more twin harmony backing vocals throughout rather than the slightly odd recorded-at-the-bottom-of-a-well lines.

  5. Library Eye

    Library Eye Forum Resident

    Los Angeles, CA
    Try Not To Breathe is probably a 4/5, not just on its own but as second half of starkest pair of tracks they'd ever opened an album with, and for how completely it contrasts with the song that follows. Phrase that comes to mind is "album track."
  6. Binni

    Binni Forum Resident

    Try Not To Breathe

  7. Lance LaSalle

    Lance LaSalle Prince of Swollen Sinus Thread Starter

    Our votes for "Drive" (recounted)

    Average: 4.195
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  8. Desbug

    Desbug Forum Resident

    Try Not To Breathe - I never really choose to listen to this. I know it's well crafted but... maybe it's the subject matter. Despite that I can clearly hear most of it in my head if I think about it, so it's clearly stuck there over the years. Appreciating the craft I'd got for 4/5
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  9. Bug80

    Bug80 Forum Resident

    I must be honest, I expected higher scores for Drive. Looks like we may be much more divided about the post-OOT era than I thought.

    Anyway, Try Not To Breath.

    [...] This decision is mine
    I have lived a full life
    And these are the eyes that I want you to remember

    Of course Stipe always had a way with words, but it seems that around this time (or maybe a bit earlier, with some of the songs on Green), he found out that he doesn't need to be "vague" and still paint beautiful pictures with words. I think the lyrics are amazing on this one: sad and vulnerable, but strong at the same time. The music is beautiful too: in the basics it's "just" a typical R.E.M. folky song in 6/8, but the production is somehow quite different than before (no mandolin, for starters), which makes the song fit on AFtP perfectly, but would not make it fit on any other album. The verse is beautiful of course, but I especially like how the backing vocals and other instrumentations are "weaving" with the lead vocals in the chorus.

  10. DiBosco

    DiBosco Forum Resident

    West Yorkshire, UK
    In terms of its instrumentation, I quite like Try Not To Breathe. Plenty of nice touches like the percussion intro; the triangle "ping" and the floatiness of its 6/8 strumming pattern suggest a lighter song than it turns out to be.

    Once the song gets going there are plenty of other things I like: the heavily EQ'd "You will never see" that sounds like it's maybe phased a bit too, when Bill's drums kick in fully; Peter's dissonant feedback at the end of the middle eight and the plethora other counters and backing vocals.

    However, I find the lyrics incredibly uncomfortable (I'm sure that's the point) and Michael's "ohs" in the middle eight really grate with me. Also he's straying a bit into that tone of singing that he uses more and more as time goes on, I think it's what people started to pick up on in Swan Swan H. I think if this song was on an album I liked a lot, it's one of those songs that would be lifted by what's around it.
  11. crustycurmudgeon

    crustycurmudgeon We've all got our faults, mine's the Calaveras

    Hollister, CA
    "Try Not To Breathe" is a gorgeous, moody, disturbing song. I love the backing vocals, especially the falsetto vocal. The song sucks me into a place (hopefully many years from now) when I don't feel there's any reason or desire to carry on, there's nothing more to look forward to, and I'm ready to let go. It makes me think of my best friend's mom who, early last year, decided she had had enough. A good friend of hers had just died and so she just stopped eating. A very brave and sad choice.

    I won't be rating any songs from here on out. I'll just occasionally comment as I see fit. It's a lot harder for me to muster ratings for songs that I would rate less than 5/5 and there are more of those now than there were before and it's unfair to only rate the 5/5s.
  12. GoodVibrations47

    GoodVibrations47 Every living being is a dancer

    Try Not To Breathe
    Great song,... for me there's a sunny atmosphere which belies the poignant, somewhat bittersweet lyrics
    Some more harmonies would have been perfect though, I agree!
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  13. ghoulsurgery

    ghoulsurgery House Ghost

    New Jersey
    A good friend of mine is very involved in the death positive movement, and I feel like this song could be their anthem (this article sums up the death positive ideology better than I could here: The Death Positive Movement Encourages Us to Face Death Directly - Nerdist ). This is one of the songs that faces death most directly on the record. More than anything, it sounds peaceful to me. Death happens to us all and the narrator of the song is facing it with dignity and grace. They understand that this is hard for the people around them, but it’s time to go. The “shiver” lyric and Stipe saying “dare me to breathe” give me chills every time. This is a perfect song, one of a handful of perfect songs on the record. I’m not sure I can think of any other song that approaches death this way, or does it this well.
  14. Eleventh Earl of Mar

    Eleventh Earl of Mar Somehow got them all this far.

    New York
    Dare me to breathe.

    Gorgeous little song. It's a really comforting set of lyrics, that wanting to make something that outlives yourself - that slight fear, why "would" anyone remember you. I might be weird but I became comfortable with that day before I was 18, I don't need to shiver

    Really hard between full marks or not - but I really do love the sentiment plus the vocals are convincing. Not new ground for REM... regardless 5/5
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  15. markreed

    markreed Forum Resident

    Try Not To Breathe. Another classic. I know a lot of us are very keen on the earlier stuff, but to discount this as anything lesser than the IRS years seems a bit snobbish to me. The easiest path for REM to take at this point would have been to produce a series of soundalike mandolin ballads. To me, whilst on the surface it feels like it might be about death, it's more about agency and control, self-determination, and not having to do something you don't want to do. "This decision is mine", of which the ultimate decision is to live or die, but carries through to the rest of life, though it is clearly Stipe writing in the third person from the perspective of someone who has lived long, prospered and seen a lot. And even at his age then, and us at our age now, we will have seen things that younger people could never see - phone boxes, letters in the post, news distributed only through print, and so on. 4/5
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2021 at 7:17 AM
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  16. dirkster

    dirkster Forum Resident

    McKinney, TX, USA
    Try Not To Breathe

    The “aging” meaning of the lyrics makes sense, but the lyrics also worked for me on the level of having anxiety and being afraid to mess something up; holding one’s breath while trying to get through a tense time. The bass lines on this album consistently stand out to my ears, and this is another great one from Mills. Further in, we also hear some vocals effect as if someone is singing through a telephone or some device that limits bandwidth.

    This is not a huge song, but upon hearing this track #2 I felt like AFTP was probably going to be very good. I got the sense from this and “Drive” that the band had turned a corner somehow.
  17. dirkster

    dirkster Forum Resident

    McKinney, TX, USA
    Very quotable. One of my favorites: “Automatic For The People is melancholia-a-go-go, but it’s not depressed”.
  18. kouzie

    kouzie Forum Resident

    Batavia, IL
    Try Not to Breathe
    This one is the kind of album track that makes these guys so special. I'll gladly mine through the hits and lesser songs to find gems like this one. Vaguely reminiscent of older songs in their catalog, but hardly sounds like a retread and Peter's helming some interesting instrumentation. But it's crammed full of what several others have already pointed out- great intelligent lyrics, perfect harmonies and bassline. No, Bill doesn't go all Animal behind the kit, but it's certainly tasteful.
    One of my Top 3 of the album.
  19. Al Gator

    Al Gator You can call me Al

    The exquisite mix of acoustic and electric make Try Not to Breathe a sonic wonderland. Michael’s singing comes through loud and clear. It’s another dark track - I need something to fly over my grave again - but again the great melody keeps it from becoming overwhelming. This following Drive is one of my favorite opening pairings on any R.E.M. album.
  20. Bug80

    Bug80 Forum Resident

    This reviewer nailed it!
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  21. prymel

    prymel Forum Resident

    Try Not To Breathe

    The second straight song on AFTP where the melody goes absolutely nowhere. It’s all Stipe singing the same basic thing over and over and over again, and the band trying to dress it up with interesting melodic and production touches. They try a couple of background vocals/harmonies, and the one that goes to falsetto lands beautifully, but the other sounds like it’s coming out of a tin can.

    The lead vocal goes in an endless circle and it makes my head spin. It also recycles the basic melody of "Swan Swan H", which is not a compliment. It sounds like Stipe’s aiming for profundity but I find it pointless and exhausting. At 2:20 in they concede they’re out of ideas as the song goes into nineteen seconds of “oh-oh-oh’s”.

    TNTB keeps beating its head against the same wall for four minutes before it finally gives up. I gave up much earlier. 1/5
  22. MEMark

    MEMark Forum Resident

    Try Not to Breathe: I love this song, and it's weird how sometimes I find it harder to dig into/pull apart songs that I love (vs. songs that I hate or am lukewarm about). The theme and the lyrics really resonate with me--even more after hearing their inspiration from Lance. The idea of letting go on your own terms, with some control, is very emotionally gripping to me. The insistent rhythm that's there during most of the song (maybe it's percussion, or maybe an acoustic gtr) adds a nice depth. And I love the use of feedback, which takes a sort of stately song and dirties it up just a bit. And now I feel like I'm veering into pretentious wine speak. Enough--like so many things that elicit a strong emotional response, I can't quite put down my thoughts on paper. Heavy-duty 5/5. (Great drum sound on this one, too.)

    Also never anticipated the polarized views on this record. This is gonna be good!
  23. ghoulsurgery

    ghoulsurgery House Ghost

    New Jersey
    I really enjoy this slightly louder live arrangement from the Monster tour. There’s a little more defiance in Stipe’s voice here. Sounds like a more assertive stance, someone taking total control of their life and when/how it should end

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  24. TexasBuck

    TexasBuck Forum Resident

    Dallas, TX
    Try Not To Breathe - In my preview, I mentioned "Automatic For the People" still resonates with me, but in a different way than 30 years ago. "Try Not to Breathe" is the prime example. I think I generally knew what the lyrics were about, but it's kind of easy to gloss over the impact when you are in your low 20's. This song is much more immediate to me in 2021, and unfortunately the song now has a name and a face. (Probably the last person on earth I would want it to be) "I will try not to burden you" is the line that hits me the hardest, as it's something this person would say to me. So this song is painful to hear but at the same time comforting. It's also profoundly beautiful and even ends up rocking a bit, with the feedback. However, the lyrics are the standout to me. One of Stipe's best efforts in my opinion. One of my favorites on the album, but there are many favorites on AFtP for me. 5 Rating.
  25. Bob C

    Bob C Forum Resident

    So Cal
    "Try Not To Breathe" is the band's version of their 'classic' sound circa 1992. The same 4 guys playing what they know and playing it well. 4/5

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