Friday, May 4, 2012

Song #182 of 9999 - Try Not to Breathe by R.E.M.

Song #182 of 9999

Title: Try Not to Breathe
Artist: R.E.M.
Year: 1992
Album: Automatic for the People

That R.E.M. managed to make a hit out of an album that deals primarily with mortality is impressive enough. Considering that only a handful of the songs can be considered uptempo makes it even more of an achievement. The record spawned six singles, but I have always been most fond of the album track "Try Not to Breathe."

"Try Not to Breathe" seems to be about the guilt felt by the dying protagonist as he watches his loved ones suffer through his death. It's not obvious whether the man intends to take his own life but his concern for others is clear: 

I will try not to burden you
I can hold these inside. I will hold my breath
Until all these shivers subside,
Just look in my eyes

The song sways like a rocking chair in 12/8. The tonal center is nebulous from the start: is the chord progression (D-Am-C-G) centered around D or G? The moving melody that accompanies the line I want you to remember nudges the song in the direction of G, but even then there's a hint of E Minor. Michael Stipe's voice quivers yet shines, sounding miles away from the mumbling troubadour who hid behind the band ten years earlier on Murmur. Automatic for the People is the Georgia band's masterpiece and this song is one of the hidden jewels.

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