#52 – Leaving New York


Artist – R.E.M.
Album – Around the Sun
Year – 2004
Genre – Alternative Rock

This was a tough review for me to do, mainly in part because I love so many R.E.M. songs (don’t worry, some more will come in the future.) However, I’ve been meditating on this song for the last couple days, and realized what a powerful, emotional song this is and that I had to review it. It’s actually quite a resonant song for the stage I’m at in my life, and hopefully many of you out there can relate to it in some way or another.

This song is all about the layers. The instrumentals are warm and jangly; typical R.E.M. It’s a slower tempo song, but the beat is exactly what sets the melancholic mood and tone of the song. Right away you can recognize the brutally honest voice of frontman Michael Stipe. Stipe has always been the major standout on R.E.M.’s work, and once again is the chief lyricist for this song. From the time he starts singing, underlain with clean guitar and piano, you know he’s about to bear his soul. When the chorus hits, the layers kick in. It has a very lush sound, mainly because the guitars are ringing out here. But Stipe sings exactly how he should in a song like this; melodically and honestly. He’s not perfect, and even a bit shaky at times, but that adds to the emotion and the sincerity in his voice and his message.

The second chorus is even better, with the added vocals of “It’s pulling me apart. Change.” This on top of the incredibly poignant line “It’s easier to leave than to be left behind” pack an emotional one two punch, especially with the way he’s already singing and the way the instruments compliment him perfectly. Then comes the bridge and the “false chorus,” and this is where the song kicks it up a notch.

“I told you forever”
“I love you forever”
“You never, you never”
“You told me forever”

I constantly ask myself how so many musicians I love can say so much by saying so little, in a way that seems so simple. This part nearly brings me to tears when I hear it, and I can almost sense Stipe is also emotional during these lines. It doesn’t have to be complicated. There’s beauty in saying I Love You by itself. At this point in the song, there’s one last final chorus overlaid with all the parts combined, and it’s quite something to hear. The song ends soon after, but it certainly leaves you thinking about its message: leaving the people and places you love can be one of the hardest things to do, even if that person lives across the street. Change can be a tough obstacle, but sometimes it really is easier to leave than to be left behind.

R.E.M. has so many wonderful songs that muse on human feeling and that tell a story. Like I said there’s more coming in the future, but I hope that you all find beauty in this song, because it certainly deserves to be heard by all alternative fans and anyone who appreciates some real gut punching emotion in music.

Let me know what you thought of the review and the song in the comments below!