Release Date: 10.27.98
Record label: warner bros.
Genre(s): Movies, Film Scores, Musicals, Etc.
Up, Up, and Away (from their previous selves)
by: bill aicher
Bill Berry is gone. Scott Litt is not producing. REM has changed. The change is nothing drastic in the way of their sound, but instead it is in the way of emotion. The new album is much more introspective than some of their earlier works; not that the earlier ones lacked depth, but this one seethes feeling through the seams.
After the poor sales and reviews of New Adventures in Hi-Fi (I actually love it) as well as the loss of Bill Berry after the brain aneurysm during their Monster tour (among other reasons), it was unknown whether REM would continue to make quality music. The band has been the same group of people since the early 80s, with such epitomes of music as Fables of the Reconstruction, Document, Green, Out of Time, Automatic for the People, and Monster. Much like U2, the band has become a staple of music culture. Recently the band has been dissed for their changes in style. Hard-core fans were distraught by the rock sound on Monster - fans of their pop sound were disappointed by their experimentation on New Adventures... Personally I am impressed by the way they have grown through the years. I love all of their albums and Up is no different.
Up marks a major change in REM's composure, but I am not going to focus much on this. Instead you are going to hear why this album is good, regardless of anything anyone else tells you. There is a definite change in mood with the new disc, many of the tracks feature a spacy, if not dreamlike, style. The lyrics have become somewhat cryptic. Stipe has put a lot of thought into the lyrics on this disc, tackling topics such as technology, industry, religion, and other so-called advancements of the human species.
From the opening track, "Airportman," we are immediately made aware of the changes on this disc as compared to earlier works. The entire musical composition has a more galactic feel, as something you would expect to hear a few years in the future. Stipe's voice is droning and monotonous, much like style The Edge used in "Numb" off U2's Zooropa. This no strike against Stipe, for the style is perfect for getting the mood of the song across. In fact, throughout the album Stipe sticks toward a sound of inner lamentation.
The most upbeat track on the disc is "Lotus" which features a harder guitar crunch, like what would be found on Monster. However, instead of making this a rock track it becomes more of an electronic sound with the continual repitition of the guitar riff, backed by almost-too-perfect drum beats and sample loops. The addition of a strings section contrasts this sound, setting a mood of confusion. We do not know if the band is trying to go with or against technology. Stipe gets down hardcore on the vocals, showing fits of anger in places, both at himself and society. The song bashes our technological and physical advances over time, but rather than blaming society, Stipe claims the problem to be due to himself as well. "I ate the lotus / say haven't you noticed?" The anit-advancement feeling is most present in "wash away my ugly sins / opposing thumb / dorsal fin / that monkey died for my grin"
The rest of the CD is excellent, always much more contemplative than was evident in the earlier offerings. My personal favorite on the disc is "At My Most Beautiful," which is basically a love song. No, there is not much of a hidden meaning here - instead Stipe pours out emotion and the little nuances of the things we do when in love. The piano riff is catchy and enchanting, totally soothing me when I need it. This is definitely a candidate as a future single, and will most likely be a big prom hit. The first single, "Daysleeper," is just what it sounds like, a great song. The acoustic guitars in this song are present throughout much of the CD, and it is a good example of the general tempo and emotionality found therein.
REM continues to pump out quality work. They have been doing it for almost two decades now, and even with the loss of a beloved member, they continue to amaze me. Up is definitely one of the highlight albums of the year. Most critics agree with me on this, although as far as I can tell, the CD is not doing too well in stores. Help out these hometown boys from Athens, GA. They deserve it, and besides, you will pick up an excellent piece of artistry along the way.