R.E.M. – Up (25th Anniversary) Deluxe Edition Album Review: And Then There Were Three

R.E.M. Up is being re-released in a deluxe edition to commemorate its 25th anniversary. It’s the band’s 11th album, but more notably, it’s the first with Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Michael Stipe as a trio. Drummer Bill Berry quit the group just before the recording sessions were about to commence after assurances they would continue without him. However, as they all mention in the accompanying making-of documentary “This Way Up,”Berry’s departure caused a lot of turmoil for the group and for each of them as individuals.

While some song arrangements sound different from past R.E.M. albums, that’s not solely due to the personnel change as they intended from the start when they were working on demos that Up would make use of drum loops and different percussion. Also signalling things are different for the band, this is the first R.E.M. album to present Stipe’s lyrics.

The opening track “Airportman” uses a synthesizer and other electronic sounds, evoking a dream haze. Not until Stipe starts softly singing would one know it was R.E.M. He sings of a man moving “beyond security / great opportunity awaits”, a perfect encapsulation of where the band found themselves as they forged ahead without Berry.

They return to a familiar rock sound on “Lotus” but there’s still a number of electronic flourishes that make it sound fresh. Then into “Suspicion,” a wonderfully lilting, twist on a love ballad as Stipe sings of wanting “nothing too deep,” preferring the dream of what could be in his imagination. A fuzzed-out guitar on the bridge evokes that dream in contrast to the rest of the song which is buoyed by a xylophone and a string section.

“Hope” is propelled by a cacophonous synth sound and because of its similarities to Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne,” he was given a writing credit. Although no shared credit on “At My Most Beautiful,” the music and vocal harmonies bring to mind Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys as Stipe sings about the beauty that comes from making one you love smile.

The album continues with an enjoyable blend of musical arrangements, some of which further expand the “R.E.M. Sound,” in support Stipe’s poetic lyrics that tell stories about characters such as “The Apologist,” the “Sad Professor,” and the “Daysleeper,” who works the “Receiving department, three A.M.”

Unfortunately, none of the B-sides from Up singles have been included. Disc Two presents a live 11-song set from a Party of Five taping recorded on 2/17/99. They play six songs from Up mixed in with classic R.E.M. tracks. Stipe banters with the crowd between songs, offering funny anecdotes, unsure how the proceedings are going to go. His concern is ill-founded as the band sounds good, even though Stipe runs them through the second chorus of “Parakeet” another time.

On the Blu-ray, Up is available on Stereo PCM or 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, the latter to immerse oneself. “This Way Up” (59 min) is a documentary about the making-of Up. Interviewed individually, the band talks about the stresses of moving forward without Berry and how they almost broke up, the stresses of completing the album, and the summit they had to air their issues with one another. None of the personal turmoil is shown. Adding to the pressure of finishing Up was a performance set for the Tibetan Freedom concert, their first concert in three years and the first with a new drummer. A wonderful surprise to see Thom Yorke rehearse “Be Mine” with the instrumentalists but a lightning storm curtailed their plans.

Uptake (59 min) features six songs performed in at Ealing Studio, England with supporting musicians Scott McCaughey and Joey Waronker, who played on the album, and Ken Stringfellow and BJ Cole. Videos for “Daysleeper” (4 min), “Lotus” (5 min), and “At My Most Beautiful” (4 min).

In addition to the Deluxe 2-CD/1 Blu-Ray edition, the expanded reissue, which features the album plus the Party of Five performance in its entirety, is available in 2-CD, digital, and hi-res configurations, while the 14-track, 2-LP album will be reissued on 180-gram vinyl. A limited-edition pressing on Green Marble vinyl is also available exclusively at R.E.M.’s official store.

While the initial response to Up was less enthusiastic than the run up to that point of six platinum-selling albums going back to Document (1987), this 25th anniversary edition offers an opportunity for a re-examination of a talented band willing to “Walk Unafraid” and push themselves in a new direction. Up offers a marvelous listen and the inclusion of the Party of Five performance is a fun bonus.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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