R.E.M. – Up

Maaaaan, this album reminds me of the time I did all that coke, flew to New York, found Eric Clapton, and irately accused him of murdering his infant son. Maaaan.

No, but really. In case you don’t know, on the tour for the last album, R.E.M.’s drummer, Bill Berry, had a hilarious aneurysm while performing a song about oral sex (“Tongue”), quit the band, and became a farmer in flyover country. The band, robbed of a forming member, bravely soldiered on and continued to record albums and slowly sank into musical obsolescence. At least that’s the general impression, and it’s completely true starting immediately after this album, except for the part where aneurysms are hilarious. See, Arie M. already had lots of practice writing old-person music, and gutted through one more great album before getting totally boring. How’d they do it? I don’t know, I’m guessing 43 or however old they were was the last gasp before they got all boring (the next two albums) and had a “return to rock” that was doomed before it left the boardroom of stupid ideas (the last album). Because this one’s purely vegetarian gravy, homes. Say, I just read my old Metallica reviews, and they’re really sad and kinda funny and amazingly credulous about Metallica of all bands – was I a better reviewer at 19 than I am now? Sometimes it sure seems that way. And who financed that boardroom of stupid ideas anyhow? I mean, that’s pretty wacky, don’t you think? An entire room, rented, in an office somewhere, where they just come up with stupid ideas? Ha! It’d be absurd if the proof of its existence wasn’t right in front of me, you know?

And you know why I had that nagging thought of self-doubt in the last paragraph? Because “You’re in the Air” was playing. I’ll get back to that in a minute. This album is thoughtful music for adults (never mind that I liked it as a teen, it practically has a mustache it’s so grown up). The songs are all slow, and about things like an airport worker, a day trader, a lovelorn professor, worrying about an affair, inner strength and (probably gay) love songs that are all slow-like with hi-hats and strings all over the place. The saving graces are the melodies and the lyrics, which is nothing to throw a shoe at – I hadn’t listened to this album in seven or eight years before review-time, and I immediately remembered and loved the utterly ashamed “I’m sorry”s of “The Apologist”, the cleverness of “Hope”, the lovable sappiness of “At Your Most Beautiful.” And that’s not counting the obvious, all-around-excellent single “Daysleeper.”

The boys have been around, and know how to use repetition and layering to make these songs enjoyable to listen to. They accept their age and use distorted guitars tastefully, not trying to “rawk” while still letting guitars lead nearly every song. And howsabout them lyrics!

“Dear reader, my apologies / I’m drifting in and out of sleep / Long silence presents the tragedies of love / Note the age. Get afraid / The surface hazy with attendant thoughts / A lazy eye metaphor on the rocks” from “Sad Professor”!

“Walk unafraid / I’ll be clumsy instead / Hold my love me or leave me high” from “Walk Unafraid”!

“I feel great. / I lied to save your feelings / Truth convened, my head smashed through the ceiling / I lost an arm / No one harmed / You diplomatically alarmed / I sulked away to lick my thin skin / I’m not over you, I’m not over you, I’m not over you.” From a special hidden track in the middle of the gosh darned album!

And now, the flaws: some of these songs have nothing good about them! Who cares about the glooped-up bore of inexplicable single “Suspicion?” Why is “Diminished” nearly the same song (only better)? Why is “Lotus” so purposefully ugly? Who gives a shit about the Chris De Burgh-a-thon “You’re in the Air?” That song always lets my mind stray to negative thoughts because it’s so 80s-y and schmaltzy.

And now, some positive final thoughts: this is one of very few albums that manage to be quietly uplifting (especially with the closer “Falls to Climb” and “Walk Unafraid”), and also one of few good albums to listen to when you have a headache. Take that for what it is (a good, understated album). It’s like the old R.E.M. lion holding down and fucking a hot lioness for the last time. At least it is tangentially.

8/10 

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