December 2nd, 2008 10:28am
There’s A Splinter In Your Eye
The protagonist of “Cable TV” is dead broke, but has just enough money to treat her sweetheart to an day of relative luxury at a cheap motel in the middle of the desert. The song is delivered in a familiar sort of flat, cool-girl deadpan, but it’s less about conveying a condescending distance from the character and her situation, and more about communicating something along the lines of “Hey, I know this is ridiculous, but let’s make our own fun, even if it involves watching television in a place other than our apartment.” If anything, the ironic humor only makes the song sweeter by contrasting tight financial limitations with the genuine comfort and affection of the couple, particularly when they start dancing in their underwear to old Janet Jackson hits. In other words, fun and love trump glamor and wealth.
Pre-order it from Asthmatic Kitty.
I’ve already written about this song at length, so let’s just for a moment focus on sound of this particular recording, and by extension, the entire concert included with the new reissue of Murmur. One of the most appealing elements of R.E.M.’s earliest recordings is the way Peter Buck’s chords and notes ring and chime with this sort of disarming clarity, as if you are hearing something precise and impossibly clean in contrast with the muddled, unmistakably human quality of Michael Stipe’s voice. That sound comes through in this live performance, but it is filtered through the energy and urgency of being young dudes playing in a rock club, resulting in slightly mutated versions of by now incredibly familiar songs. Today, Murmur and Reckoning seem like records that have somehow always existed despite belonging to a particular time and place, but this live disc is a good reminder that they were the work of a hungry young band who just happened to become brilliant craftsmen only a few years into their career.
Buy it from Insound.
Also, as a bonus for you, I’ve set up a little R.E.M.-centric contest with the people at Insound. Basically, if you go here, you can enter to win a copy of the new R.E.M. coffee table book Hello: Photographs by David Belisle, which is one of the featured items in their holiday gift guide. There’s never been a better time to support indie retail, so go check that out.