About a week ago, I dragged out REM's Automatic For The People and popped it in the player at home. It had been a very long time since I'd listened to it.
It's got a lot of songs on it that just resonate within me, even if I (still) don't understand all of the lyrics. A prime example: "Try Not To Breathe" From the first time I heard it, the music has been separate from the lyrics. I like the lyrics, but the arrangement is what vibrates inside me, transports me to another place in time, and I'm certain that the gentlemen from Athens never had that particular destination in mind.
From the opening notes, I'm standing on the slowly-pitching deck of an aircraft carrier, watching a fast frigate pull alongside a few yards away for underway replenishment. We steam rapidly southward on the Indian Ocean. The sun is low on the horizon, sitting just above the foredeck of the frigate as it pitches through the waves. The tempo of the cycle mimics the rhythm of the song, the sharply-angled bow alternately clearing the wavetops, showing several feet of keel backlit by the sun, then plunging deep into the face of the next swell. Flying fish dart forward of the bow wave, glistening silver and purple.
None of this has anything to do with the song, but even after 24 years, I still go back there.
I don't have the new REM CD yet, but I heard "Houston" today, along with Stipe, Buck and Mills' comments on writing it. It's a song about Katrina and its aftermath, and while the guys speak of it as though it's all new to them, the music is recycled almost completely from "Try Not To Breathe". The instrumentation and signal-processing are different, but I was still standing there, rocking away on the flight deck.
I'm not complaining, just observing. I obviously have an affinity for the rhythm and never seem to mind hearing it again. In fact, as the band members state, the music fits the lyrics extremely well in this case. Still, I wasn't aware that melodies were in such short supply that they needed to be recycled by the same band.
Hindsight: I listened to "Houston" again. It's not a complete recycle, but it sure has a lot of similarities.
The interview and other links can be found here: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89491734