Up (25th Anniversary Edition)

Up (25th Anniversary Edition)

R.E.M. lost one of its four founding members in 1997, when drummer Bill Berry announced he was leaving the band. But drumming was only part of what Berry did: He also played guitar, bass, and piano, sang background vocals, and wrote music for some classic R.E.M. songs, including “Man on the Moon,” “Everybody Hurts,” “Leave,” and the sublime early song “Perfect Circle.” More immeasurably, he was the one who advocated for keeping the songs shorter and more accessible, earthy rather than arty. Released in 1998, and recorded during a period of escalating tension between R.E.M.’s remaining members, Up is often described as the band’s “electronica” album—and indeed, several of the songs have drum machines or loops. But the most electronic thing about the album might be the ghostly, distant mood of the songs, which feel like something heard from an attic two stories above you. “Dream, dream,” Michael Stipe sings repeatedly at the end of “Suspicion”—and that’s the feeling conveyed by much of the album. Some musical touches stand out immediately: The distorted keyboard hook in “Hope” nearly recalls the proto-punk New York band Suicide, while the tacky drum machine and cheesy synth in “Airportman” sound like the Delta Airlines lounge circa 1978. And on “At My Most Beautiful”—a rare direct love song by Stipe—bassist Mike Mills’ backing vocals are a pastiche of The Beach Boys’ classic vocal harmonies. Keyboards dominate the album, but Up—and yes, Right Said Fred used the title way before R.E.M. did—has some clear links to the band’s earlier albums. With its buzzing, slow-moving guitar line, “Lotus” would’ve fit in on Monster, while “Suspicion” and “Sad Professor” float as beautifully as anything on Automatic for the People. On “Daysleeper,” Stipe jumps 20 years into the future and sings about an unhappy office worker whose electronic devices rule his life. And the narrator of the jaunty, nearly anthemic “Walk Unafraid” is proudly at odds with the advice of his friends, which deepens the album’s theme of alienation. When the group began, R.E.M. was an artsy alternative rock band, and it was a surprise when, in 1987, the group began its decade-long stint in the rock mainstream. But by the time Up came out, the zeitgeist had changed, and harder, less subtle bands—Foo Fighters, Korn, Green Day, Limp Bizkit—were in the spotlight. R.E.M. had returned to its origins as an artsy alternative rock band, even though the music now sounded much different than it had in 1983.

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