I Ate The POLLtus: REM's "Up"

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Continuing our series with my first favorite R.E.M. album (I came to them late!). This is still severely underrated and lumped-in with the rest of their post-Berry work, but I think it has a fairly distinctive sound and character, and the work is generally high-quality. There are a few stinkers here - I never warmed up to "Walk Unafraid" in terms of Stipe's performance, and overall I think it's a couple songs too long. But there are also some truly beautiful things.

"You want to cross your DNA / cross your DNA with something reptile" might win this for "Hope" as far as I'm concerned but then there's "Lotus" and the convincing weirdness of "Airportman," the throaty cry of "Daysleeper," the REALLY overlooked "Falls To Climb" etc etc...

Poll Results

Daysleeper 9
Hope 8
Why Not Smile 3
Sad Professor 3
Falls To Climb 2
At My Most Beautiful 2
Parakeet 1
You're In The Air 1
Suspicion 1
Walk Unafraid 0
The Apologist 0
Diminished 0
Lotus 0
Airportman 0

Doctor Casino, Friday, 14 November 2008 00:34 (eleven years ago) link

"At My Most Beautiful", although "The Apologist" and "Walk Unafraid" are both great.

When I was... however old I was when this album came out (15? 16?), this was my shit. It was just this and Eels on constant rotation for about four months.

Peter "One Dart" Manley (The stickman from the hilarious 'xkcd' comics), Friday, 14 November 2008 00:36 (eleven years ago) link

this is too difficult. not heard some of the songs in many years, as Stylus' playing god column convinced me of a much better, and shorter, tracklisting.

Gukbe, Friday, 14 November 2008 00:53 (eleven years ago) link

"Sad Professor" the one that really sticks with me from this record. I can't hum a note of the rest of it.

Guayaquil (eephus!), Friday, 14 November 2008 00:57 (eleven years ago) link

aw i loved this album. "hope," "the apologist," and "sad professor" were my favorites. also i love "why not smile," even though it's the corniest.

horseshoe, Friday, 14 November 2008 01:02 (eleven years ago) link

I like this album a lot even though the jetlagged/insomniac sadness can bit a bit too much at times. The subtly electronic nuances have aged well and the lyrics are beautiful, they often sound like something a Raymond Carver character would say ("you always listen carefully/ to awkward rhymes/you always say your name, like I wouldn't know it's you/ at your most beautiful"). I'm voting for "Daysleeper".

Vision, Friday, 14 November 2008 01:03 (eleven years ago) link

"Why Not Smile" worth it for "I feel like a cartoon brick wall" if nothing else. Even the songs that I don't really love on this have lots of great things going on in the mix, too.

Doctor Casino, Friday, 14 November 2008 01:05 (eleven years ago) link

ha i've had "i feel like a cartoon brick wall" in my head since i read the thread title!

horseshoe, Friday, 14 November 2008 01:06 (eleven years ago) link


This was their last good album.

Mr. Snrub, Friday, 14 November 2008 01:08 (eleven years ago) link

Shit, forgot an option for "I'm Not Over You" tucked after "Diminished." Not that I think anybody would really go for it, but...

Doctor Casino, Friday, 14 November 2008 01:09 (eleven years ago) link

Ooh, forgot about the "sunspots flares of the early 90s" on "Parakeet."

Doctor Casino, Friday, 14 November 2008 01:12 (eleven years ago) link

This is a great article.

Mr. Snrub, Friday, 14 November 2008 01:12 (eleven years ago) link

Yep. That was my favorite "Playing God" on Stylus. I haven't listened to Up in a few years, original or Stylus-style, but the writer is absolutely OTM in his argument for why "Why Not Smile?" would be a much improved album opener over Airportman.

Z S on the internet (Z S), Friday, 14 November 2008 01:19 (eleven years ago) link

Nice read, thanks for the link. I kind of disagree on some key points, especially the exclusion of "Airportman" - but always nice to read in-depth praise of songs you like!

Doctor Casino, Friday, 14 November 2008 01:25 (eleven years ago) link

Nice album, "Hope" is my favorite.

sum 41 dude (some dude), Friday, 14 November 2008 01:30 (eleven years ago) link

This was a surprisingly hard choice on a surprisingly good album. I'd genuinely forgotten how much good stuff was on this record. It's somehow enervated, rootless, yet very self-contained. As much as I really like (on re-listening for the first time in years) "Daysleeper", "Airportman", "The Apologist", "Sad Professor", etc., I went with "Parakeet". Then I had a minute when I regretted not voting for "Falls To Climb", a great album closer...

Lostandfound, Friday, 14 November 2008 01:34 (eleven years ago) link

"Falls To Climb" sounds like early Peter Gabriel.

Lostandfound, Friday, 14 November 2008 01:34 (eleven years ago) link

Daysleeper is my favourite REM song.

I know, right?, Friday, 14 November 2008 03:18 (eleven years ago) link

"Lotus" is so awful.

Alfred, Lord Sotosyn, Friday, 14 November 2008 03:35 (eleven years ago) link

ha yeah i hate "the lotus"

horseshoe, Friday, 14 November 2008 06:18 (eleven years ago) link

"lotus" is great. But it's either "Hope" or "Sad Professor" for me.

clotpoll, Friday, 14 November 2008 07:01 (eleven years ago) link

"Hope" - probably my favourite REM song.

nate woolls, Friday, 14 November 2008 08:17 (eleven years ago) link

The whole self pitying outsider non conformist theme of this albulm, hell yeah, I lapped it up in 199?, also disagree about "airportman" it makes the songs work as an albulm, the whispered lines about "oppourtunities" before a set of some fucking sad songs on lifes regrets--"why not smile" is my fav but wouldnt work as an opener for these songs, its much too pretty and hopeful.

Kiwi, Friday, 14 November 2008 10:33 (eleven years ago) link

I fucking caned this album when it came out, it wasn't a terribly great period in my life though. It's either Parakeet or Falls To Climb for me, although there's a mystery and a vagueness to You're In The Air that I really love. They lost that mystery over the couple of albums that followed and never really managed to do the old synth thing as well again.

Chopper Aristotle (Matt DC), Friday, 14 November 2008 10:39 (eleven years ago) link

A boring pic maybe, but I feel that "Daysleeper" is in a league of its own here.

Geir Hongro, Friday, 14 November 2008 10:53 (eleven years ago) link

Boring pick even, although the lack of pic probably meant that it was a boring pic too :)

Geir Hongro, Friday, 14 November 2008 10:54 (eleven years ago) link

i like daysleeper and at my most beautiful. this was my drop off album as far as REM were concerned - was it really 10 years ago?

the next grozart, Friday, 14 November 2008 11:03 (eleven years ago) link

never liked the apologit or the sad professor.

the next grozart, Friday, 14 November 2008 11:04 (eleven years ago) link


the next grozart, Friday, 14 November 2008 11:04 (eleven years ago) link

'Daysleeper' for me, one of their best ever singles. Loved 'Walk Unafraid' too. This whole album is one of those records that screams 'Late 1990s'.

Gavin in Leeds, Friday, 14 November 2008 11:17 (eleven years ago) link

two weeks pass...

Automatic thread bump. This poll is closing tomorrow.

System, Sunday, 30 November 2008 00:01 (eleven years ago) link

I'm as stuck as I was when I first drew this up... these are all really good:

At My Most Beautiful
Sad Professor
Falls To Climb

..and most of the others have at least something going for them. If this was 17-year-old me voting, it would have been "At My Most Beautiful" in a heartbeat, but jaded, weary 27-year-old me can't really admit how good it is, so something like "Sad Professor" or "Daysleeper" sort of recommends itself. The lyrics on "Hope" are probably the best here, but then Lotus has "~HEY HEY!~," the closest R.E.M. ever got to my dream that they would take Fred Schneider on as their regular guest vocalist.... fuck.

Doctor Casino, Sunday, 30 November 2008 00:23 (eleven years ago) link

After Green's "You Are The Everything" graced Dylan McKay's devastating moment of isolation in a second season episode of "90210," how sweet was it for the band to play "At My Most Beautiful" live.

Alfred, Lord Sotosyn, Sunday, 30 November 2008 00:25 (eleven years ago) link

Pretty sure we've done this already, but it's still "Daysleeper", then their best single since "Drive".

Geir Hongro, Sunday, 30 November 2008 00:25 (eleven years ago) link

Geir, was the "already" back on the 14th when you voted? :)

Doctor Casino, Sunday, 30 November 2008 00:29 (eleven years ago) link

Yep. This poll has lasted a bit longer than I used to, I guess. And I discovered when I tried to vote that I'd done it already. :)

Geir Hongro, Sunday, 30 November 2008 00:33 (eleven years ago) link

Yeah, I've been giving them two weeks each, which is maybe a lot, but they don't have SO many albums that we won't get through 'em all. And then of course, we get to do the mega-poll of top finishers (and the "poll of everything that got zero votes" of course)...

Doctor Casino, Sunday, 30 November 2008 00:35 (eleven years ago) link

I don't know how I missed this poll. I keep missing these REM polls, which is crazy because corny or not, it's still probably my favorite band (blame it on my GA roots).

I voted for "Why Not Smile". I love the feedback layers that come in at the end, it's like a chorus of voices that keep getting louder and more intense. I love the Oxford American version a lot too.

After that one, I'd probably vote for "Hope" or "Falls To Climb". This album is a little long (could lose at least "Parakeet" and "Undiminished" without being diminished), but trimmed down, it's great.

Euler, Sunday, 30 November 2008 01:19 (eleven years ago) link

Sequencing was R.E.M.'s biggest foe for a while there I think - the whole stretch from Monster through Reveal (not sure about Around the Sun, never actually heard the whole thing) falls into the "great album, kind of wants to reshuffle and lose 2-3 songs though" category.

Doctor Casino, Sunday, 30 November 2008 01:30 (eleven years ago) link

That's true about sequencing and length. On Monster I could trim a couple of songs at least. I still haven't gotten into New Adventures in Hi-Fi, but probably there's a great album somewhere among the mess. I'm less sure of that on Reveal, because I've only listened once or twice, and never gotten into it. And like you, I've never heard Around the Sun. Some fan I am!

Euler, Sunday, 30 November 2008 01:34 (eleven years ago) link

Of all those, NAIHF best rewards the time spent learning its curves, but I'll still rep for Monster and goodly swaths of Reveal - I suppose one of these will have to be the next poll since we're on the subject! May as well hold off discussing them till then...

Doctor Casino, Sunday, 30 November 2008 01:52 (eleven years ago) link

Up may be the one album I've given the most chances to, waiting for it to finally click, and it just never did. New Adventures took a lot of listens, but now I love it. Up, not so much.

Voted "Falls to Climb."

Hideous Lump, Sunday, 30 November 2008 02:09 (eleven years ago) link

Automatic thread bump. This poll's results are now in.

System, Monday, 1 December 2008 00:01 (eleven years ago) link

Once again, thanks to everybody for participating - nice to see unknown album track "Hope" doing so well on a poll like this! Next poll up shortly...

Doctor Casino, Monday, 1 December 2008 00:05 (eleven years ago) link

two months pass...

wow that's an amazingly poor showing for WALK UNAFRAID. hurray for HOPE mind you.

for anyone in the UK by the way, FOPP has the recent remastered cd + 5.1 dvd packs of the warners back catalogue for 3 quid each. THREE QUID!

piscesx, Tuesday, 24 February 2009 19:40 (eleven years ago) link

five years pass...

This is my favourite Rem album, not sure it's their best but I think it's a solid contender. It used to be my favourite album by any band at all in my teens but it still would probably be in my top 15 albums.

I love the dense and ethereal atmosphere, the brooding obsessive insomniac element.

Maybe the album could have a better track order but I really don't think I could get rid of any of these tracks. If I had to it might be "Walk Unafraid" but there's a lot I like about that one too. I don't agree with the track order in the article above at all. I think the way "Airportman" sets up the impact of "Lotus" is amazing.

I'm amazed "Suspician" gets one vote and no talk at all! The guy in that article said he'd leave it off the album. Pure evil!
I would have voted for it as best track, I think it's completely mesmerising, so many beautiful parts that come together so well.
We talked a little on the American Music Club/Mark Eitzel thread about how similar the track "Helium" is to this track and can be viewed as sort of a companion piece. When I heard Peter Buck did an Eitzel album (called West) around the Up period I was very excited but I only really liked two or three tracks and "Helium" is easily the standout.

"Apologist" is a strange one, it isn't that sad or overtly horrific but it's one of the most miserable songs I've ever heard. It sounds like a really thick foggy headache, there's also something pestering about it.

I love so many of these tracks but don't have much to say about the others.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Monday, 27 October 2014 21:45 (five years ago) link

Bruce Kaphan from AMC played on this album also. can't remember which song though.

akm, Monday, 27 October 2014 22:31 (five years ago) link

I didn't know that. Is there any other REM/AMC crossovers?

Robert Adam Gilmour, Monday, 27 October 2014 22:34 (five years ago) link

I pulled this out for a listen the other week when I was going through one of my phases of playing the shit out of New Adventures In Hi-Fi and found I wasn't quite in the mood for it. It's got some excellent stuff on it, though: particularly love 'Lotus', 'At My Most Beautiful', 'Hope' and 'Walk Unafraid'. I've heard the album enough times to know that I think highly of it, but it's a very mood-dependent record for me. When I'm in the right mood, it really hits the spot for the most part, but even I can't deny that as much as I like the record, if I'm not in the mood for it I find it a bit of a slog, especially towards the end of the album with tracks like 'Diminished' (which, alongside 'Sad Professor', would have been the first to get the chop if I'd been the editor of this record).

Welcome To (Turrican), Monday, 27 October 2014 22:56 (five years ago) link

This is the REM album I'm most likely to put on as I've played the IRS albums much more. There's still some novelty in "Up" and a unique sound in their catalog. If they hadn't backtracked on their sound they could've gone in an experimental direction a-la Radiohead.

Gerald McBoing-Boing, Monday, 27 October 2014 23:11 (five years ago) link

And yet it's the most traditional ones on this that I like best - "Daysleeper," "Walk Unafraid." "Hope" could be a Green ballad. There are so many great tracks on the four albums after this that I have to disagree with you about their direction.

timellison, Monday, 27 October 2014 23:16 (five years ago) link

Overheard this exchange in a record store a few minutes ago between two guys who seemed to be playing the role of music expert and student:

Student: "Lenny Bruce...he was in REM, right?"
Expert: "Yeah, definitely"

I of course dutifully played the role of bystander who internally lols

Karl Malone, Monday, 27 October 2014 23:27 (five years ago) link

Okay Tim, I'll take that challenge. What's the Best-Of-Post-Up look like?

Gerald McBoing-Boing, Monday, 27 October 2014 23:32 (five years ago) link

I believe it is an EP.

Josh in Chicago, Monday, 27 October 2014 23:36 (five years ago) link

I applaud'em for playing "Airportman" at the Tibetan Freedom Concert.

guess that bundt gettin eaten (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 27 October 2014 23:42 (five years ago) link

"The Great Beyond"
"The Lifting"
These might be my ten. There are others I like, too.

"Imitation of Life"
"Leaving New York"
"I Wanted to Be Wrong"
"Living Well Is the Best Revenge"
"Mr. Richards"
"Every Day Is Yours to Win"
"Mine Smell Like Honey"

timellison, Monday, 27 October 2014 23:52 (five years ago) link


These might be my ten. There are others I like, too.

"The Great Beyond"
"The Lifting"
"Imitation of Life"
"Leaving New York"
"I Wanted to Be Wrong"
"Living Well Is the Best Revenge"
"Mr. Richards"
"Every Day Is Yours to Win"
"Mine Smell Like Honey"

timellison, Monday, 27 October 2014 23:52 (five years ago) link

Oh, and "Walk It Back."

timellison, Tuesday, 28 October 2014 00:14 (five years ago) link

this used to be my favorite rem record

emo canon in twee major (BradNelson), Tuesday, 28 October 2014 00:50 (five years ago) link

I'll be pounce pony, phoney maroney
Pony before the cart

Doctor Casino, Tuesday, 28 October 2014 04:32 (five years ago) link

four years pass...

20 years now.
Rediscovering this album these days. It is really great (tho I don't care for Daysleeper). Love the organ and the drone wandering around a lot of the songs. Dont get why its poorly rated.

licorice oratorio (baaderonixx), Tuesday, 20 November 2018 10:55 (one year ago) link

Also a very unique vibe. Feels like drinking coffee under a warm blanket in a bare room. Very '98 I guess.

licorice oratorio (baaderonixx), Tuesday, 20 November 2018 11:22 (one year ago) link

that's how I spent 98

maffew12, Tuesday, 20 November 2018 12:09 (one year ago) link

Weren’t we all

licorice oratorio (baaderonixx), Tuesday, 20 November 2018 13:33 (one year ago) link

This album appeared shortly before the trend for overcompressing indie-synth records so that everything sounds in-your-face and very bright. By contrast there's still a sense of mystery to this album that just isn't there on subsequent REM records. I spent the summer listening to a lot of Cluster and Harmonia, Another Green World etc and they feel like the closest reference points for the electronics on Up.

It's hamstrung by the track order, Airportman works perfectly as an opener but once you've got through Lotus and Suspicion it feels like a real trudge. The middle section and the final two songs remain wonderful though.

Matt DC, Tuesday, 20 November 2018 13:41 (one year ago) link

Yeah a nearly-6-minute-long down tempo 3rd track is a total momentum killer. It's too long overall for sure, i'm sure there's a doc (on the remastered/deluxe versions maybe) where Buck is saying that he wouldn't cut a couple of 'his' tracks because Stipe wasn't going to cut any of his.

piscesx, Tuesday, 20 November 2018 15:23 (one year ago) link

Belongs on the AFTP thread maybe but this is interesting


piscesx, Tuesday, 20 November 2018 15:25 (one year ago) link

xpost I assume you mean Buck versus Mills. Certainly Up, among other things, underscored the tiebreaker roll that Bill Berry played, not to mention his musical contributions.

Josh in Chicago, Tuesday, 20 November 2018 15:36 (one year ago) link

Ah maybe so yeah.

piscesx, Tuesday, 20 November 2018 15:40 (one year ago) link

I often listen to this entire album because I want to hear Falls To Climb, and it's a very enjoyable ride to there.

Could never see the point of Hope though, if you end up with a melody -that- similar to Suzanne, why not simply cover Suzanne? (I never read up on the lyrics of Hope, maybe I should?)

Valentijn, Tuesday, 20 November 2018 21:22 (one year ago) link

The phrasing seems similar but it's not the same melody.

timellison, Tuesday, 20 November 2018 21:25 (one year ago) link

It's not exactly the same, no, but it's similar enough that they gave Lenny co-credit for the song. Can't help but always think of Suzanne when I hear Hope.

Valentijn, Tuesday, 20 November 2018 21:44 (one year ago) link

I’m rarely sold on Stipe as a lyricist but I really like the lyrics of “Hope” - “but the last try was a failure and the intern was a mess” is a nicely grim line, and the whole thing is a really compelling look at the places that someone’s mind can go if they’re stuck in the hospital with nothing certain to hold onto anymore. I’ve been loving “Suspicion” lately as well, the album does kind of lose me as it goes on though.

JoeStork, Tuesday, 20 November 2018 22:16 (one year ago) link

iirc they realized once recording was done that they'd unconsciously gotten it from "suzanne," or sth like that. i agree, the lyric's fantastic. also like the pulse of the backing track.

|Restore| |Restart| |Quit| (Doctor Casino), Wednesday, 21 November 2018 00:31 (one year ago) link

Adore this album.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Friday, 23 November 2018 19:09 (one year ago) link

honestly you could ditch "Airportman," "Parakeet", "Why Not Smile", "Diminished" and "Suspicion" and lose almost nothing from what this album was trying to accomplish

resident hack (Simon H.), Friday, 23 November 2018 19:31 (one year ago) link

Those are some of the best songs though.

Robert Adam Gilmour, Friday, 23 November 2018 19:36 (one year ago) link

in fact if you swapped all those out for the two b-side instrumentals ("Surfing the Ganges" and "Emphysema") it would be a more colorful and better paced record imho

resident hack (Simon H.), Friday, 23 November 2018 19:54 (one year ago) link

Before this album came out, I was listening to an advance copy in the bedroom of my third-story apartment, with the window open. My roommate came up from the street and said a guy was standing down on the sidewalk, staring up at my window. As my roommate approached the front door, the guy asked her who was playing music up there. Then he said — “No one’s supposed to be listening to that album yet. I’m friends with the band, and I’m gonna tell them about this.” It was very weird.

my guitar friend wants his money (morrisp), Friday, 23 November 2018 20:25 (one year ago) link

one year passes...

Up is REM's Dukes of Stratosphear record -- self-consciously ditching their identity to make a bunch of songs in the styles of their various heroes. I tend to like these records bc while they don't always produce a group's best music, they usually tell you more about the band than just another release at this point in their careers.

All of the songs are here are unmistakably "REM Songs"--how could they not be?--but dressed up in arrangements like they are staring in a mirror wearing mom's party dress. The Beach Boys nightswim across this album in a million places -- "At My Most Beautiful" is the most obvious (and least successful), but not one but two songs nick the vibe(s) of "Til I Die" ("Suspicion" and "Diminished"). Meanwhile, "Lotus" tosses a few seconds of "Mrs. O'Leary's Cow" strings in the intro.

The other influences are fun and/or interesting -- "Parakeet" has Richard Wright playing the leslie speaker piano of Pink Floyd's "Echoes," the Paul Thompson whomp of Bryan Ferry's "Tokyo Joe" in "Lotus." Mid-70s Eno crops up in a bunch of places as well -- notably on the rhythm generator and piano chords break midway thru "Why Not Smile."

"Daysleeper" is the one track where they pay homage to themselves (and was unsurprisingly the single) -- it's ... fine? It doesn't say anything about who they are I didn't already know from Out of Time nearly a decade earlier. By contrast, "Walk Unafraid" feels like it could be a highlight on any record of theirs.

Fun record.

Naive Teen Idol, Friday, 31 July 2020 15:07 (one week ago) link

great observations---I thought of Reveal as more the Beach Boys rip, but you're right that it's here too. It's good to note the influences on the songs you mention, because "Parakeet", "Diminished", and "Suspicion" bleed together for me and the influences are a way to crack them apart. I prefer the "Sad Professor" on the 2001 Unplugged set.

Joey Corona (Euler), Friday, 31 July 2020 15:14 (one week ago) link

I love all the unabashed somnambulist miserablism on this one, because of course I do (Sad Professor, Daysleeper, Falls to Climb all come to mind)

the quar on drugs (Simon H.), Friday, 31 July 2020 15:18 (one week ago) link

Excellent perspective! This is still the only post-IRS album I'll rep for, but I do so unreservedly.

Peter Buck is a huge Soft Boys / Robyn Hitchcock fan, if this is their Dukes album I wonder where we find that homage.

Gerald McBoing-Boing, Friday, 31 July 2020 15:53 (one week ago) link

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