R.E.M.’s Up has kind of a bad reputation. The 1998 release was the band’s second without drummer Bill Berry (whose departure the band’s fans still aren’t over). It was part of their trend of lower-key records that only ended with their 2008 ‘comeback’, Accelerate (QRO review). It was around when a lot of fans who’d grown up with them during the indie eighties and early nineties alt-boom began to drift away. But if you take it on its own, not compared to their amazing previous output, or who was or wasn’t on the album, Up shines, with a great bonus rehearsal for the 25th anniversary edition.
First things first: While Up is not the forgettable record that you forgot, it ain’t exactly Life’s Rich Pageant (QRO 25th anniversary edition review) or Automatic For the People (QRO 25th anniversary edition review). Tracks like the opener “Airportman” or the extended “Suspicion” and “You’re In the Air” are so low-key as to be relatively forgettable. But there are also still-killer standouts such as the nicely surrealist “Lotus”, the beautiful “At My Most Beautiful”, and powerful “Walk Unafraid”. And a few songs to be reappraised, such as the memorable “Daysleeper” and “Why Not Smile”.
The bonus material is a special rehearsal taping they did at The Palace. It was simultaneously their first rehearsal, a special event for fan club members, and taped for Party of Five (there are even references to Billy Corgan and Tower Records, to make it even more nineties). Delightfully loose (as singer Michael Stipe would often mention), it contains live versions of both the Up material and classics like “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and even an attempt at Up b-side “I’m Not Over You” (which also has the great Corgan story).
If Bill Berry leaving R.E.M. was as much the end of the alt-nineties as Kurt Cobain’s death (or Al Gore’s ‘loss’ to George W. Bush), so be it. Up was still a great record that you probably didn’t give its due back then, but can now, a quarter-of-a-century later.