There was something about R.E.M.’s Up that rang alarm bells with me from the moment I heard that it was going to be released.
Like many of their fans in the UK, I had got into R.E.M. during the early 90s, at the point where they were at the height of their commercial powers, and I had actually quite enjoyed the seemingly unloved Monster and the sprawling New Adventures in Hi-Fi. Then I heard “Daysleeper”, and although I was a little underwhelmed at the time, I assumed it would be something of a grower. Then I heard “At My Most Beuatiful”, and slightly stalkerish lyrical themes aside, I was once again slightly underwhelmed.
It’s fair to say, I didn’t rush out to get Up when it was first released (it admittedly took 19 years for me to hear the full album in total), but after encountering “Lotus” and the few non-singles I did hear, I felt that R.E.M. had begun to lean a little too heavily on drum machines, and as a result it just sounded a whole load of not much fun. In the intervening years a few well meaning friends occasionally tried to convince me otherwise, but I always assumed that Up was a difficult and rather unlovely album.
So, why give it a chance after 19 years? Two reasons. Firstly, in an effort to try challenge my long held opinion that R.E.M. should have just split when Bill Berry decided to call it a day. Secondly. I found it cheap second hand, and I wasn’t going to spend much cash trying to prove the first point to myself.
You know something? I was right all along. Up, for all the obvious effort that went into it, is an ultimately underwhelming album that when you break it down, and probably really should have been an EP. As it turned out, both “Daysleeper” and “At My Most Beautiful” were in fact growers, but beyond that, the lovely “Walk Unafraid” and closer, “Falls to Climb”, Up just isn’t a great album by R.E.M.’s lofty standards. The increased focus on synthetic sounds, drum machines and general studio jiggery pokery, resulted in a large scale reduction in the heart and soul of R.E.M.’s music, and that’s just a real shame.
Sometimes, it turns out that your initial assumptions about music can be right, despite your own best efforts and willingness to be open minded and potentially alter your perception of it.