Sunday, 15 August 2021

An R.E.M. Summer: The REiMagined Albums - part 3

It was anyone's guess what 'Up' would sound like prior to its release in 1998. The band's first without the lynchpin that was Bill Berry, what would they be able to come up with as a three piece? Initial single Daysleeper hinted that it would be business as usual, an almost by-numbers R.E.M. piece, but the reality was anything but. 'Up' was a very different R.E.M. record, steeped in electronics and experimentation.

As such, reaction to it was mixed, and many see it as the beginning of the band's commercial and critical downturn. And it probably was, but that's not to say that somewhere amongst this sprawling 14/15-song mass there isn't a really good 40 minute record screaming to get out. It definitely suffers from being too long, much like its predecessor, so JC and I need to get our snippers out and come up with a version of 'Up' that does away with the downs. So I fired my initial suggestions over to my Caledonian compadre:

This is one I don't listen to as much as 'New Adventures In Hi-Fi', probably because there's so much going on, it's quite hard work to get through. That said, some of the finest moments on 'Up' are its more peculiar and diverse. So consistency may have to go out the window. That's particularly evident with my proposed Side One.

Side One
1. Daysleeper
2. Lotus
3. At My Most Beautiful
4. Hope
5. Sad Professor

Side Two
6. I'm Not Over You
7. Walk Unafraid
8. The Apologist
9. Why Not Smile
10. Falls To Climb

I've dispensed with Suspicion (no surprise there), You're In The Air, Diminished, Parakeet and Airportman. I did toy with putting Airportman in there as the closing track. I moved it around a few times but just couldn't make it work. It's not one of my favourite songs on the record, but I feel it kind of should be there as if to make a point that this is not the R.E.M. we once knew. It makes that point immediately on the real 'Up', being the opening track. But that's always irked me, and I tend to start playing the album from Lotus onwards.

Therefore Daysleeper makes the cut as the opener instead of being buried as deep as it appears on the actual album. It kind of leads us more gently into the 'new' R.E.M. with a sense of familiarity. The other two singles are next, followed by my Imaginary 7" choice. It's not deliberate to put the singles together like this, nor is it intentional to put the most diverse selection of tracks together first. It worked out that way and I like how they do seem to work in sequence. Sad Professor closes the side as a way of introducing a more contemporary (if that's the right word) sounding second side.

You'll notice I've also included I'm Not Over You as a track in its own right. It's lost on the original album as a hidden interlude at the end of Diminished, and live Stipe performed it in the encore entirely solo, with his rudimentary guitar playing. I think that alone merits inclusion - it's the song that gave Michael Stipe the confidence to perform without his bandmates.

Both Walk Unafraid and The Apologist are songs that could have been singles (certainly far better singles than Suspicion was), while Why Not Smile and Falls To Climb are both utterly gorgeous and contrast each other. Why Not Smile is a desperate plea from a very unhappy, totally despondent individual, while Falls To Climb's protagonist laments on all the lows in his/her life, yet somehow sees hope at the climax, the song's anti-crescendo with its drum rolls and sparkling synths seeming to emphasise that all may not be lost. That for all the downs, there may just be an 'Up' around the corner. It closes the original record and there's no more fitting way to close mine.

I considered a couple of different versions of some songs but they just didn't quite have the effect I was looking for, so this is simply a straightforward effort, culling some songs and rearranging what's left. From 65 minutes down to 40 - I think my work here is done. Over to you.

JC responded with a rather succinct missive which doesn't leave an awful lot to debate. But then, 'Up' was always a difficult album to love for numerous reasons, length being just one of them. He still offered some interesting thoughts though:

I found this quite tough. I think that's a combination of things - not being a huge fan of much of the album and a touch of blog/writing fatigue in recent weeks. I could easily drop this album to a six-track, bargain price EP, but to keep things simple, I decided that I'd stick with the ten tracks you settled for but suggest a marginally different running order, as well as one alternative version.

Side One
1. I'm Not Over You
2. Walk Unafraid
3. At My Most Beautiful
4. Hope
5. Sad Professor

Side Two
6. Daysleeper
7. Lotus
8. The Apologist
9. Why Not Smile [Oxford American version]
10. Falls To Climb

You'll see that I'm suggesting flipping the first two tracks from each side. My initial thought was to open with Walk Unafraid as I reckon it's one of the most underrated songs from the era, largely as it was one they seemed to crank up in the live setting, but your thoughts on I'm Not Over You being a stand-alone track make such great sense, and I feel opening the album in that way would be as much of a curve-ball as Airportman actually was.

Lotus is one of the great second songs of any album, and it was down to follow Walk Unafraid on my first draft. But having changed my mind, and decided to go with I'm Not Over You as the opener, it just felt too much of a shock to the system to go straight into a song which opens up 'Hey, Hey....'. Therefore it goes to Side Two and it does fit in well after Daysleeper.

As for Why Not Smile, it's simply down to me liking the other version a bit more.

Now like last week, when I received Jim's reply, I thought there's not much of a hot debate to be had here, certainly not one that warrants a Zoom call. But not for the first time, he got me thinking. And that's no mean feat in itself!

My safe opening track was being brought into question. JC reckons I'm Not Over You would have made more of a statement, and he certainly has a point. But I tried it out myself and I'm not entirely convinced. I do think it works better opening side two.

However, I can't argue with his position on Walk Unafraid. It is one of the band's best tracks of the period and deserved more attention. I just can't get over the fact that the studio version really underplays its strengths though, strengths that shone through when played live. So I thought "what if I could get it sounding more like the live version in order to really bring it out of itself?" So I set about attempting that. After a fair bit of experimentation (and frustration at my chronic lack of remixing skills), I ended up settling on a particularly good live version (recorded for The Black Sessions on France Inter radio, and officially unreleased), onto which I welded a couple of studio snippets and fixed a little vocal slip in the middle where Stipe didn't get back to the mic in time!

Now I feel Walk Unafraid sounds and feels more like it should and therefore worthy of side one, track two. Lotus, which held that feted position on my offering, takes its place on side two.

The only remaining thing to consider is the version of Why Not Smile. I went for the album version, JC opted for the alternative take that featured on the b-side of Daysleeper. And to be fair, although they both sound very different, there's very little to separate them in terms of quality. In the end, I only decided to retain the album version due to running time. It's a minute longer than the other one and therefore makes for a more even side two compared to the slightly longer side one.

So there it is - 'Up REiMagined', a shorter, more focussed version of R.E.M.'s much overlooked 'transitional album'. And a better one I reckon. Agree? Once again, the whole thing is down below for your enjoyment.

Up REiMagined
compiled by TheRobster & JC

1. Daysleeper
2. Walk Unafraid [Black Session edit]
3. At My Most Beautiful
4. Hope
5. Sad Professor

6. I'm Not Over You
7. Lotus
8. The Apologist
9. Why Not Smile
10. Falls To Climb

Grab it here



4 comments:

  1. A great attempt at the poisoned chalice of trying to make "Up" accessible. Love the version of "Walk Unafraid" - mkaes me want to track down the whole session.
    Starting with "Daysleeper" makes a lot of sense but I'd like to keep "Airportman" as it is so ... odd. As someone who just can't like "Lotus" I'll do that swap. Other than that, a definite silk purse out of - maybe a rayon purse?

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  2. This is a stupendously good rethink. It's been a long time since I listened to the original, which tells a tale in itself, and this now sounds like a complete album, with somehow a far more consistent style and quality. Think New Adventures is a tougher nut in that sense. Thank you very much for forcing a rethink and reappraisal.

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  3. This all makes perfect sense to me.

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  4. Only just listened to this one - you should have edited the original album!

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