Friday, 7 January 2011

"Oh My Heart", AKA "Houston, Part 2"

Most fans, I imagine, were expecting Mine Smell Like Honey to be the next track released by the band (I certainly was!), but instead R.E.M. chose to surprise us all by giving us a special New Year's treat in the form of Oh My Heart, the fourth track from the eagerly-anticipated Collapse Into Now. Those of you who read my last post will remember my frantic edits as I realised, to my horror, that I had been oblivious to its release during the entire writing of the day's blog post.

So what were my first impressions of the new track? Well, as I wrote yesterday (albeit in a rushed, unpolished form), Oh My Heart alludes in more ways than one to their previous album Accelerate, namely the song Houston. Not just in it's lyrics either* - Oh My Heart evokes the emotion as Houston does, with an acoustic, minor-key verse dominated by Peter Buck's guitar. However, where the new song differs lies in the instrumentation of the track. Heavily distorted drums and guitars that were present in 2008 have been replaced with a mandolin and a brass section, and the chorus focuses more on the backing vocal than it did in Houston.

Speaking of the backing vocals, I was surprised at the change of direction they took in this song. R.E.M.'s harmonies are usually very close and tightly-knit (for example the Mills/Berry vocal duo in Wolves, Lower), and so I suppose I could be excused for being rather taken aback at  how much has changed over 30 years. Scott McCaughey and Mike Mills deliver an emotional, reverb-filled sound, which they further emphasise by placing their voices an octave apart, giving a unison effect. Actually, it kinda reminds me of one of those churches in America, where people join in massive sing-a-longs and add their own little ornamentation as they go.

Drums this time round are increasingly quiet, and in all honesty I didn't even realise they were there until my second listen. The musette used, along with the mandolin, gives the song a feeling I haven't experienced since I listened to Green for the very first time.

Alas, the question still remains in my head - do I like the song? After a whole night of  deliberation and constantly putting my iPod onto 'repeat', my answer is something you'd probably expect from an adolescent:

"Uh... yeah. It's okay, I guess."

The truth is, I was never a big fan of the more downbeat elements of Accelerate, much as I praise the album, nor am I a huge fan of R.E.M.'s slow, sad songs in general. In fact, it was only yesterday that I actually listened to Houston all the way through. I feel nothing but shame. :(

So, in order to give this song the review it deserves, I have devised a simple 5-star rating system. Here's how it works.

◊ - 1 Star: Just don't listen to this. Please, for the love of God!
◊ - 2 Stars: A below-average track. Not really worth your bother.
◊◊ - 3 Stars: A good song. Not the greatest, but it's nice to listen to.
◊◊◊ - 4 Stars: Great. I highly recommend this song, and you'll want to hear it again and again.
◊◊◊◊ - 5 Stars: Excellent. R.E.M. at their very finest!

Keeping in mind I am an R.E.M. fan, some songs which I would rate '5' on an ordinary system would now probably be a '4' on this scale, as it is in relation to the rest of their back catalogue. I think you'll get what I mean. If you're pining for another example, I might give one fizzy drink a 10 out of 10 on an ordinary scale, but if I was rating it in comparison to other fizzy drinks of the same kind it may not be as highly rated (or, indeed, may be even more so!).

Now that that's out of the way, I'll rate the three songs I've reviewed on the blog thus far:

Discoverer - ◊◊◊◊ - A rocking tune that I'll put on my CDs for weeks to come.
It Happened Today - ◊◊◊◊◊ - This is possibly one of my favourites at the moment, of all time. I can't tell you how much I like it!
Oh My Heart - ◊◊◊ - A decent song, though not one I think will stand out on the new album.

And there you have it. If you're clamouring for Mine Smell Like Honey, you'll have to wait until January 18th, I'm afraid. Amazon have a 30-second preview of the track here, and you can hear a shorter snippet on the CIN trailer, but sadly that's all we have. My body can't take much more of the waiting - oh, my heart!

Yours truly,

P.S. Sorry for the lame pun in the last line. I couldn't resist. :P

*The lyrics I'm referring to are in the third verse: The storm didn't kill me/The government changed, which closely resembles the first two lines of Houston: If the storm doesn't kill me/The government will. That's why I think of this song as "Houston, Part 2".


  1. Nice blog, definitely linked you, add me to yours as well. I also like your rating system and observations. Mr. Stipe has definitely been referencing past songs for some time now. Can definitely see the Houston, Pt. 2 analogy ...

  2. Thank you! On reflection, perhaps I was making too large a comparison - each song has their own individual merits. It's hard rating things when you like all their songs. :) Incidentally, "Sing for the Submarine" is full of references, as I'm sure you're aware. I like to think of it as an 'Easter Egg' for us loyal fans... :P