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File Under Answers
When it became time to make a film about Andy Kaufman, it seemed only natural to get R.E.M. to do the soundtrack, given that the immortal “Man on the Moon” provided at least the title for the film.
And while I don’t think I’ve seen it since, I seem to recall enjoying Man on the Moon the film, despite Jim Carrey — who I took a visceral dislike to during In Living Color — and because of Courtney Love, but 20 years later, it’s clear that the best thing that came from the whole project was “The Great Beyond,” which was released as a single at the turn of the century.
Musically, “The Great Beyond” was a true transition single, straddling the line between the electronic soundscapes of Up and the lusher feel of Reveal. Honestly, it would have enhanced either album — especially Reveal — but since it was written specifically for Man on the Moon, it’s kind of this weird anomaly, showing up only on greatest hits albums and R.E.M. Live.
I’m pushing an elephant up the stairs
I’m tossing up punch lines that were never there
Over my shoulder a piano falls
Crashing to the ground
Outside of a cool synth trill playing around with a quick guitar lick, “The Great Beyond” is a slow burn and uses one of R.E.M’s oldest tricks: the pre-chorus that you initially mistake for a chorus because it’s so catchy in its own right but still gets upstaged when the real chorus comes in.
I’m breaking through, I’m bending spoons
I’m keeping flowers in full bloom
I’m looking for answers from the great beyond
After a brief interlude where the strings come in, they double and triple down on the chorus, Mike Mills doing stellar work on the harmonies, Michael Stipe sneaking in some lyrics in from “Man on The Moon” for good measure. While it probably didn’t advance their art any, “The Great Beyond” reminded everybody why we loved that art in the first place.
And while it basically stiffed as a single — though it did well on the radio stations that were still playing new music from bands like R.E.M. — in the U.S., “The Great Beyond” was R.E.M.’s highest-charting single in the U.K., making it to #3, so good job U.K.!
“The Great Beyond”
“The Great Beyond” official music video
“The Great Beyond” live in Germany, 2003
“The Great Beyond” live, 2005
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