Review of the often forgotten first album in R.E.M.’s post-Berry catalog
By Carter Bagley
For most bands it wouldn’t change much if they lost or replaced a member, but I always looked at R.E.M. differently. They worked as a unit 100% and unlike most bands didn’t have one member that was far and away better than the others. They’re sound was a culmination of all the members doing what they do best and combining it and that’s why they’ve released so many albums and stayed together for such a long time. So when Bill Berry left the band after “New Adventures in Hi-Fi” they were obviously going to be a tad bit different. Their follow up album “Up” has been largely forgotten about by the public and it’s almost a completely different sound for the band than what we’re used to. The opening track “Airportman” is instantly a completely different sound than their previous stuff. It uses a drum machine which is a huge contrast in sound which is a direct result of Berry’s departure as their drummer. It’s very quiet and calm but it’s a good song though not the greatest opener to an album. The second song is called “Lotus” and was the second single for the album which was a bad decision for the band. It’s alright at best though for how little it has to say it drags on way too long and the “Hey”‘s at the beginning are extremely annoying. “Suspicion” sounds more like the opening the track and it’s complete with good lyrics but after a while gets kind of boring. The vocals are nice enough and it has a lovely instrumentation I just think it could’ve benefitted if it were louder. The next song “Hope” uses a lot of electronic instrumentation but it’s used in a good way and actually turns out to be the best song on the album so far. It keeps your attention which is something I can’t say about the previous songs. Though it’s quickly topped by the brilliant, beautiful, and uplifting “At My Most Beautiful”. This song is truly lovely and amazing in pretty much every way and one of the most underrated songs in R.E.M.’s entire discography. It’s also probably one of my personal favorites and Stipe’s vocals are great and sincere especially when coupled with his distinct and mysterious lyrics.The piano and the tone of the song in general is very reminiscent of some of their other songs like “Nightswimming” and that is nothing but a compliment. “The Apologist” follows this sudden fantastic streak nicely and the instruments are fantastic and the vocals are great like always. The same goes for “Sad Professor” which is probably even better than the previous song and it’s really soft at the beginning but expertly performed. The loudness of the chorus perfectly balances out the slow verses unlike this album’s opening songs. The next few songs continue the album greatly as well and “Up” turns into a surprisingly great record. “Walk Unafraid” is worth mentioning because it’s actually one of the songs on the album that I enjoyed the most on first listen. It’s catchy and simple but after numerous listens it’s actually “Why Not Smile” that has topped it for me. It’s a slow burn of a song but one that grows on you with it’s interesting instrumentation. “Daysleeper” was the lead single for the album which makes a lot of sense and it’s a great rock song and a great R.E.M. song. The chorus is great and the guitar is almost too simple but it gives it a nice easily-digestible sound. It’s followed up by the 6 minute and long titled song “Diminished/I’m Not Over You (Medley)”. It is a ballad that may not have all the substance to require the duration but it’s definitely enjoyable for what it is. “Parakeet” is kind of bizarre and I don’t really see the point to it. It’s not bad whatsoever it’s actually performed really well just I think it has the same sound as many other songs on the album and doesn’t do it as well. The chorus is catchy and Stipe sings it with an intensity that kind of sounds odd when you listen to the goofiness of the lyrics. The whole thing comes to a close with “Falls To Climb”. It’s very beautiful and Mike Mill’s and Peter Buck’s instrumentation is slow building and emotional. Stipe sings like we cares about what he’s saying and in turn makes me care. It’s a great way to end an album that has a lot of potential to it but could’ve been edited down much more. The problem with “Up” is that it’s a lot of the same sounds and some of the songs don’t need to be on here. For an album so simple with it’s instrumentation and calm sound there’s no need for it to be more than 12 songs long. It focuses more on it’s lyrics than it does on Peter Buck’s guitar or Mills’ bass which is an odd idea for the band and one they haven’t tried before “Up”. Despite being too long I still find quite a bit of enjoyment in this album and some of the songs in it are truly phenomenal.
Highlights: At My Most Beautiful, The Apologist, Sad Professor, Walk Unafraid, Why Not Smile, Daysleeper, Falls To Climb
Lowlights: Lotus, Suspicion, Parakeet