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The Dartmouth
May 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

R.E.M. is back with a bold new album minus Berry

Slipping R.E.M.'s latest CD into my stereo, I wasn't sure what would spring out. As a band, R.E.M. has constantly reinvented itself with each new album. Every release is ruled by a trademark theme and style that has kept the band's fans and mainstream listeners hooked for over 20 years.

"New Adventures in High-Fi,"their most recent album, showed a darker lyrical vein compared to prior albums. "Up" is a radical U-turn from the dark feedback that drove "New Adventures in High-Fi." It takes the listener on a musical ride that has tight lyrics (printed on the album's sleeve for the first time) counter-playing with R.E.M.'s brilliant, mildly electronic music.

The burning question is whether R.E.M. will still be strong without the presence of Bill Berry, who retired from the band last year after being a member for over 17 years. "Up" answers this question and lets the rabid R.E.M. fans breathe a sigh of relief -- this album is one of the best works put together by the band of the 13 albums released so far.

"Up" is an album that doesn't keep to any particular style: funk music slams right up against techno backbeats and feedback.

The first song, "Airportman," achieves a sleepy dream state similar to the work done on "Automatic for the People." Michael Stipe's voice whispers surreally through the gauzy music that Mike Mills and Peter Buck wrap around his words.

The song makes a subtle intro to a fantastic album that is beautifully understated.

Contrasting the soft lullaby quality of "Airportman", the second song, "Lotus," jars the listener with a funk intro that is radically different from any song that R.E.M. has done to date. It literally sweats with unabashed sexuality. Stipe wails "Let it rain!" and Peter Buck on guitar drives a grinding beat home.

This is an album that demands to be listened to not once but over and over again. Like a classic novel, each song is a page turner that changes with each listen.

Any fears of the album being less without Berry's presence have been assuaged with this album. While Berry's fantastic drumming is absent, the style of the album lends itself to other frontiers that R.E.M. has not explored in their earlier albums. One is a revitalized use of the key board. Another is the clarity that Stipe sings with.

Traditionally, Stipe's singing has been subsumed by the presence of the guitars and drums on other albums. With this work, Stipe is allowed free reign to sing in any direction he chooses. The result of this gamble is an album of diverse styles that pick on a pantheon of emotions.

"Up" also feathers a number of character studies: "Daysleeper," the first single, explores the life of an office drone; "Sad Professor" tackes an academic who is miserable in matters of love; "Hope" updates Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne" character to the turn of the century.

If you're like many rock fans who are tired of the blase bands that have flooded the airwaves, take this ear candy and put it on repeat in your stereo. As R.E.M. enters a new millennium it's good to know that like a fine wine, this band is just going to get better with the years.

They've upped the ante for what makes an excellent band once again. Run, don't walk, and snag yourself a copy--it'll quickly be your favorite like it is mine.