“Hold me love me or leave me high”

One of my musical heroes and a contender for the title of Most Beautiful Man In Rock, Michael Stipe, has released his first solo record. The song, Your Capricious Soul, is the welcome return of one of the most extraordinary voices in music.

Your Capricious Soul – Michael Stipe from JMSPROJ on Vimeo.

I can’t be unbiased about Stipe. I know his voice is a love/hate thing but I’m firmly in the love camp: I could happily listen to him singing the phone book and I’d probably be in floods of tears throughout. As the singer in R.E.M. he was responsible for some of the most important music in my life.

Here’s an example: Walk Unafraid, from the mid-2000s. This is the live version; on record it’s more focused and to me, more powerful (and here’s a bonus: a great cover of it by the excellent First Aid Kit).

The lyrics are stunning.

Imagine listening to this as a closeted LGBT+ person:

Everybody walks the same / expecting me to step the narrow path they’ve laid… how can I be what I want to be / when all I want to do is strip away these stilled constraints / and crush this charade / shred this sad masquerade? / I don’t need no persuading / I’ll trip, fall, pick myself up / and walk unafraid

I made the mistake of playing the song in the background as I started to write this, so of course I’m blubbing now. Don’t even get me started on The Wrong Child.

Walk Unafraid is a really important song to me. It’s what I hear in my head when I’m scared, when I’m pushing out of my comfort zone yet again to do something that makes my heart race. Sometimes it’s all I have on my side.

If I have a bag of rocks to carry as I go / I just want to hold my head up high / I don’t care what I have to step over / I’m prepared to look you in the eye / look me in the eye

I miss R.E.M. so much. I like a lot of bands, but I loved R.E.M. They had a magic to them, a magic that really connected with me in a way other bands don’t. You’ll hear the influence sometimes in the guitar sounds I use or the way I sing some lines.

I only got to see them live once – my second attempt was spoiled because I was in hospital getting back surgery. When they broke up eight years ago I was absolutely devastated: their latter albums might not have been as incredible as their earlier work, but every one of them contained some genuinely beautiful songs – and of course, every one of them featured Michael Stipe’s unique and beautiful voice.

I doubt they’ll ever reform, but if they ever do tour again you really don’t want to get between me and the ticket office.