R.E.M.
Up


2.5
average

Review

by tjrd USER (4 Reviews)
November 6th, 2005 | 32 replies


Release Date: 1998 | Tracklist


This album shows R.E.M. in a difficult stage of its existence. Apparently, finding a replacement for retired drummer and co-founder Bill Berry was out of the question, thus they were more or less forced to re-invent themselves. The outcome was, at the very least, interesting.

Up has been mowed down by critics worldwide for being
a) ridiculously long
b) ridiculously inaccessible
c) ridiculously synthy
and a first listen seems to acknowledge all three. Most of the compositions are simplistic, minimalistic even, and crammed full of keyboard and guitar effects. Dynamically, not much seems to happen. In short, it comes off as a demo mixed by a talented engineer that has yet to be discovered so he can afford some good equipment.

But this is R.E.M. The band that recorded Automatic for the people. It does not feel right to write them off as "the band that suddenly lost every talent due to the departure of their drummer". We have to assume that this album somehow deserves its place in R.E.M.'s discography. Heck, was Monster a good album" No, but it contained some good material and led to the fine New Adventures in Hi-Fi.

With this new-found insight (and ignoring the fact that this led to another slightly disappointing album, Reveal), let's give the album a few more listens. And behold, Up reveals (no pun intended) more and more strengths among its weaknesses.

Sad Professor, for example, is a beautifully constructed ballad about an alcoholic who realizes he's wasted his life. Michael Stipe sings his grief (If we're talking about love/then I have to tell you/dear readers/I'm not sure where I'm headed) with incredible nuance over some basic chords strummed on an acoustic guitar. An overdriven guitar subtly adds some feedback effects until it takes over the rhythm job in the chorus. Stipe limits his capability to sing in a high key to one line in the chorus (I started, I jumped up), thereby showing that he can dose his talent and does not feel the need to show off. The song breathes sadness and regret, and is an easy favorite.

Another song where Stipe's vocals excel is You're in the air, which may be a little too spacy but is still a very good song, featuring a beautiful string arrangement as well. Based on a folky guitar melody the verse segues into an eerie, eclectic, desperate chorus. Note how effortlessly Stipe drops an octave at once in the third chorus!

Hope effectively abuses the format of Leonard Cohen's Suzanne to relate how others can ruin your life (You want to trust the doctors/their procedure is the best/but the last try was a failure/and the intern was a mess) and there's no help from higher hand to be expected either (You want to trust religion/and you know it's allegory/but the people who are followers/have written their own story). The frantic yet monotonous distorted keyboard and drum computer accompaniment fits perfectly.

Daysleeper is another ballad that grows with every listen. Again based on some basic chords and a great melody, the chorus is spiced up with a slide guitar and the song falls still at 1:51 after which is rebuilds, which is one of the highlights of the album. It's one of the shortest songs and the only song that should have been longer.

Still, this is not a good album by any means. It's too full of ideas for good songs that sound rushed and overproduced to conceal this (Lotus, The Apologist) or just plain bad ideas (Suspicion, Airportman). Tracks like At my most beautiful or Parakeet are courageous attempts at bringing more recognizable new influences into their music (respectively Beach Boys and Queen). As much fun as they are, they add to the already vast inconsistency of Up.

The album ends with the semi-euphoric Falls to climb, featuring what may be the weirdest arrangement yet. Percussion is limited to some weak sounding snare drumming which doesn't start until after three and a half minutes. The rest is mostly lots and lots of late seventies synthesizing with that annoying vibrato. Stipe manages to save some of it by doing another excellent performance, but still the song just seems to say "We know that you are disappointed by all this and so are we, but it's the best we could come up with."

In conclusion, Up is mainly a document that shows R.E.M. as an inventive band with willpower, courage and broad potential. This, along with some wonderful songs, helps forgive a lot of the mistakes made on the album. Thus the 2.5, though "average" is not a good description for it. "High highs and low lows" fits better.


user ratings (275)
Chart.
3
good
other reviews of this album
theTourist (4.5)
Upside Down and In the Air...

MasterSan (2.5)
Wildly inconsistent and boring....

mcdaid (2)
Not Up on this album....

Zebra (2)
...



Comments:Add a Comment 
tjrd
November 6th 2005


31 Comments


Jesus Christ. That text editor in the Submit box doesn't work apparently. Damnit. Now I have to edit the whole thing.

tjrd
November 6th 2005


31 Comments


Thank you. I haven't heard "Around The Sun" yet, but I would probably give "Reveal" a 2.

Aeaon
November 6th 2005


188 Comments


Good album. Sort of reminds me of Radiohead's Kid A.This Message Edited On 03.09.06

Zebra
Moderator
November 7th 2005


2647 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

I agreee while this album has some very good tracks it also has some awful ones.

MAthiAS
January 21st 2006


54 Comments


You didn't mention Walk Unafraid man, that chorus is classic. I'll agree this album has a lot of solid ideas that somehow didn't quite work out in the end.

Pechorin
February 10th 2006


160 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I just picked this up today, and I'll have the gazones to say I think it's R.E.M.'s Kid A. I listen to it and can't imagine why people trash this and Reveal so much. No, they aren't recording stuff like Reckoning; no, they aren't the most innovative band out there today. I think people expect a typical R.E.M. album whenm they first heard this and Reveal, and were disappointed because it wasn't what they expected. If this were a new band, they would be lauded as excellent all around. I have to give Up at least a 4/5.

theTourist
July 15th 2010


130 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

So many people need to listen to this a few times before dismissing it...

porch
July 15th 2010


8460 Comments


cool album (!)

jamiecoughlan
January 5th 2011


89 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

This album is severely underrated and is in my opinion one the very best R.E.M. albums

omnipanzer
January 31st 2011


21825 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

First album with out Bill Berry and major sound change for them. I don't think there is a bad song on this album highly underrated imo. Great stage show for this tour as well.

random
February 5th 2011


2736 Comments


I think I heard Lotus off of this. It was cool.

Digging: Cursive - Domestica

AtavanHalen
February 5th 2011


17920 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Best album post-Berry IMO, apart from maybe Accelerate or Reveal.

Vernum
June 23rd 2013


2 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

What a peaceful album

StallionMang
August 4th 2013


8962 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

This could've easily been a 4-4.5 if they'd have just chopped off the last 3 songs.

CaliginousColors
October 21st 2013


159 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Like the review said, little too synth-y for my taste, but I still enjoyed the album some of the tracks I really like. Other than that, good review!

virpi
May 31st 2015


54 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

If only some of the weaker songs weren't there. "Hope", "Walk unafraid", "Sad professor" and "Falls to climb" are wonderful, though.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
October 21st 2015


41789 Comments


damn, first song is something special

Digging: The National - I Am Easy to Find

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
October 22nd 2015


41789 Comments


Woulda been so sweet without Sad Professor and the Apologist, worst REM songs ever

claygurnz
January 26th 2016


5301 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Halfway through this for the first time and pleasantly surprised so far.

DoofusWainwright
January 26th 2016


19991 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Technically the album is ok...varied, reasonably well written tunes and what have you.



No spark behind the eyes though







You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile





STAFF & CONTRIBUTORS // SITE FORUM // CONTACT US

Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Site Copyright 2005-2017 Sputnikmusic.com
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy