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“Future 40’s (String of Pearls) (w/ Michael Stipe)” – Syd Straw
(Words/music: Jody Harris and Syd Straw, available on Surprise, Virgin Records 1989)

If you’re an R.E.M. fan and “Future 40’s” sounds familiar, you probably recognize it from the Tourfilm concert movie.  Michael Stipe prefaces a raucous version of “I Believe” with a sizeable chunk of “Future 40s” as the crowd claps along inconsistently (and yes, it gets on my nerves, I’m sorry).  Having heard this version dozens of times, I finally chased down those lyrics to find Syd Straw’s song.  Straw collaborated with Stipe with the Golden Palominos, and Stipe (in addition to other Palominos) helped her on her solo debut.  I also found that Straw and Stipe share another “collaboration” – both guest starred on The Adventures of Pete and Pete (Stipe was an ice cream man, Straw was Big Pete’s math teacher).

Appropriately, the vocal interplay takes center stage in this song.  Straw lets her voice slide up and down her register throughout the song, letting a phrase in a lower range catapult her towards the higher notes, singing at both ends of the register with the same clarity and emotional emphasis.  Stipe provides the perfect vocal foil as he emerges throughout the song.  At points, the duo sing together, while other moments one will hold a note slightly longer, and at other times Straw and Stipe sing entirely different phrases.  This constant vocal movement creates constant interest, and thankfully the arrangement keeps the vocals right in front.  That’s not to say the backing track is lacking – specifically, that repeated guitar riff is terrific, and the way the rhythm guitar follows the bass drum’s punch in the last minute gives the song the perfect bite in the final minute.  While there’s no mistaking Michael Stipe’s voice in this song, Stipe’s content enough to let Straw have all of the moments in the spotlight.  His heavier voice lets Straw perform her vocal acrobatics, letting the notes dance off wherever she feels like sending them.

More on Syd Straw: Allmusic | Amazon MP3 | Emusic | Last.fm

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