The other day, I had a delightfully lengthy conversation on Twitter about R.E.M. It all started with this:
I’ve written about R.E.M. on here before, but in that post, there was a bit of an edge of “here I am, blending my musical and scholarly interests, because I’m a scholar who writes about music.” This time, inspired by that tweetversation, I’d rather just drop any scholarly pretense. (What is this blog, anyway, these days? I have no idea.)
So: one sentence about every song on Up (1998), released in the fall of my senior year of high school. Just because.
- Airportman: It’s like listening to Brian Eno in a construction zone, with that mechanical, robotic bass crunch cutting through the rest of the beautiful production–which I suppose Eno would probably find interesting.
- Lotus: I promise I would like this song without the faux-scream vocal doubling.
- Suspicion: A good example of why this album is better with headphones and the spaces they create, as you hear these little door slams from the building next door, the quiet strings in the basement, and the band crooning in a posh hotel ballroom.
- Hope: If these lyrics were published in a book of poetry I’d take a picture and post them on Facebook.
- At My Most Beautiful: I totally forgot about those “Eleanor Rigby”-style cellos crunching into the silence toward the end, and while I like the piano alright, I’d like to hear an all-cello version.
- The Apologist: I counted Michael singing “I’m sorry” or “so sorry” at least 23 times, and that doesn’t count the quiet echoed versions that just about double it; I think that’s a bit much.
- Sad Professor: Prettier and sadder than I remember it; in high school I always tried to decide if the really good part of this album started at this song or the next one, but I usually decided it was after this.
- You’re in the Air: I put this on far too many mixtapes in 12th grade, mostly because most of my R.E.M. was on tape and I wanted CD quality on my mixes because a mix is serious business and this is the most obvious contender on the album for a mix oh I like it so much I mean listen to all that moody ambience (does this still count as one sentence?).
- Walk Unafraid: This is a song I’d like to hear on Song Exploder: what elements, exactly, add up to that that enveloping, escalating clump of sounds in the chorus?
- Why Not Smile: I don’t think it’s a real harpsichord, but is it a keyboard synthesizing a harpsichord sound or a guitar effect–and by asking this technical question am I ignoring the beauty of this song?
- Daysleeper: How did I never hear this as a carousing drinking song until today, or realize how much it sounds like it could have been on Automatic?
- Diminished: For an album called Up, there’s a lot of uncertainty and hopeless hope in the lyrics throughout–one example from this song: “I’ll consult the i-ching / I’ll consult the TV / Ouija, oblique strategies / I’ll consult the law books for precedents / Can I charm the jury?”
- I’m Not Over You: I have no memory of this little acoustic ditty living at the end of the “Diminished” track, which is weird given the number of times I listened to this CD in 1998.
- Parakeet: I always knew that the R.E.M.’s lyrics were a step above the rest, but this listen is reminding me how lovely and fresh they are on this album, and this track is a delightful example (if we ignore that “so sorry” business above).
- Falls to Climb: In a weird backward twist of history, this song would sound nice as an 80s synthpop remix–maybe Chvrches can cover it?