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R.E.M.
Up (Warner Bros.)

Reviewed by Sherman Wick



UP is the first R.E.M. record after the retirement of drummer Bill Berry. Rather than panicking after his departure and searching for a replacement, the band used it as an opportunity to experiment musically - this time with electronic and new technology, thus challenging the traditional "band" concept.

The group focuses on a vast array of keyboards and drum machines to create their new "sound" on the record. "Airportman" is a significant break with the band's previous music: multiple layers of keyboards and drum machine pensively drone as singer Michel Stipe distantly sings pared-down lyrics. In contrast, Stipe is personal, passionate and has an almost confessional tone on "Hope." The song is built on a simple repetitive keyboard riff that slowly develops into a dissonant and discordant climax, which powerfully conveys the singer's health concerns. The band also tries its hand at Brian Wilson and Beach Boys-like piano lines and harmonies on "At My Most Beautiful." "Sad Professor" is closer to the bands earlier songs. It features layers of acoustic and electric guitars and a morosely beautiful melody. And "Daysleeper" revisits the band's early trademark guitar jangle - but this time with spacey guitar fills.

The band certainly does not repeat itself - the record is a noble experiment with mixed result. While cynics will accuse R.E.M. of jumping on the then relatively hot electronica bandwagon, fans of the band will recognize the change of direction as consistent with the band's need to constantly reinvent their music. The band is truly impressive in the range of music they perform on the record, although the quality in toto does not equal the band's classic works. But how many bands take this many chances on their twelfth studio record? The reissue includes a DVD with a video documentary.

© 2005 - Sherman Wick