Welcome back. Thanks. Let's go.
So, my last post was Monster 25 and mostly because that package was wild, what with the remixed disc and all. New Adventures was a ho-hum release and I'm not as deep into that album as a lot of other fans--the only thing I would note is that the main criticism was a lack of unreleased tracks. Y'all! The album was recorded mostly while they were on tour ... where are those tracks supposed to be?
Here we are with the UP reissue and honestly, this is where the band lost the majority of fans. In my original set of posts, the revisit was very positive. The more I dove into the album lyrically and musically, the more I realized the songs were staying true to the R.E.M. process. I came away impressed with the songs and with the new three piece overall. This remaster doesn't really change that assessment and I had some of the same thoughts, particularly that the songs are all individually solid. In retrospect, I think an intro and a wrap up would have been interesting with the original posts--what are my thoughts going in and coming out--because, going in I wasn't looking forward to it!
Okay, here's the new assessment: This is a DIFFICULT album that is constantly trying to distance the listener musically, lyrically, and thematically. These characters are harder to get a grasp on than Monster. In the original posts I said something to the effect of Michael creating characters that constantly NEED to look up because they are always falling, always slipping, misstepping. That really hit home for me on the re-listen and is not the easiest character to get behind.
Musically, forget the electronica, these basslines are bananas! They ALL skew to the low bass which is anti-Mills like. The bass for R.E.M. in the past always needed to walk and create in order to balance the arpeggiated guitar. They sustain uncomfortably and sometimes sound out of tune here, which they might be as it's hard to tune to electronica--it could also be on purpose to create an unease--I encourage you to listen again and pay attention to what the bass is doing because it made me tense for the entire album. As I said before, they don't want you to feel comfortable and since Mills has said this in general about the new direction UP was taking (particularly in relation to Airportman leading off) it should not be surprising. As an example, a past R.E.M. arrangement of Daysleeper probably has the bass play something akin to the slide guitar part, but here it kind of just creates a heavy and brooding layer.
Lyrically, it's hard to like many of these characters. Even the person in At My Most Beautiful is slightly odd. The lyrics almost to a fault are off putting and the vocals are eerie--that goat backing track on Lotus is maybe too far, even for an acid trip? That said, outside of the last week I was merely heck and bag of rocks cringy lines, the lyrics are next level for Michael.
Thematically, the album is ALL OVER THE PLACE. The music hides this as there is definitely excellent work to continue the R.E.M. legacy of well produced albums that feel of a piece. However, I think I would put this in the OOT and CIN categories of pastiche albums. I did not put this together until this relisten, but this album does not match in any way and I now think it's 2 songs too long (not sure which ones, but I'm looking at Sad Professor and Falls to Climb a bit). I read an interview that the band kind of agreed, but they couldn't agree which 2 to remove--I bet Bill would've helped there!
I decided to try resequencing and while it's not my favorite exercise (the band chose the list for a reason), I enjoyed the album more jumping around. An afterthought was what if one of these was a hidden track (a big trend in the 90s), but I decided for the exercise that all the songs had to stay. My main goal was to front load and also break up the 4 songs in the middle (starting with The Apologist). And try to make the song choices more cohesive. Here was my list, give it a listen and let me know what you think:
WHY NOT SMILE - similar tone to AIRPORTMAN without the true distancing of that track
DAYSLEEPER (maybe without the intro/outro stuff) - should be the traditional number 2 track
LOTUS - keep up the easier accessible track theme
THE APOLOGIST - and then keep up the rockin'
WALK UNAFRAID - similar to APOLOGIST in tone, but going with it (thought of I'M NOT OVER YOU after this one)
AT MY MOST BEAUTIFUL - finally, let's slow it down
YOU'RE IN THE AIR - this placement made me appreciate Mills' 'hidden gem' assessment as it pairs well with Beautiful
AIRPORTMAN - here, this track creates a nice shift/bridge and I don't dislike as much as some other fans. I would trim a minute off of it though
SUSPICION - Still the best song on the album, time for the 2nd half gems
DIMINISHED/I'M NOT OVER YOU - such a good song and pairs nicely here, plus OVER YOU leads nicely into:
HOPE - always loved, but felt out of place on the front
FALLS TO CLIMB - this is my toughest. It sounds like a closer, but I don't like the overall feel (this would be my hidden track candidate)
SAD PROFESSOR - Here, the song leads nicely into the final song:
PARAKEET - So good and the little ditty ending is a good place to leave them wanting more
That's the post. Also, stop hating on AIRPORTMAN, there's nothing wrong with it you're just salty and wanted Radio Song or Kenneth.