Fractured Tonal Narratives in Early R.E.M.

David Heetderks, University of North Texas

This presentation identifies fractured tonal narratives in early songs by the indie band R.E.M. Fractured tonal narratives occur when a song changes tonic in different sections and only sometimes affirms the sections' functional connections, both suggesting and undermining larger tonal coherence. Fractured tonal narratives are distinct from two other formal devices found in rock: sectional centricity, where each section asserts a discrete tonic without projecting largescale tonal relations; and breakout choruses, where the chorus changes key and creates a sense of arrival. R.E.M. uses two devices to create tonal fracture. First, they fulfill the expected harmonic functions in each formal region while infusing multiple meanings to individual chord roots. Second, the use chords built from stacks of ic5 that have multiple possible resolutions. These fractured narratives are an ideal musical environment for their lyrics, which often have themes of ambivalence and fragmentation.