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R.E.M.'s Up 25th Anniversary Edition from Craft Recordings

11-17-2023 | By Tom Gibbs | Issue 130

Craft Recordings has just released a new 25th Anniversary Edition of R.E.M.'s 1998 album Up, which was the iconic group's first outing as a trio in the aftermath of drummer Bill Berry's retirement from the band. My limited exposure to post-Bill Berry R.E.M. wasn't particularly favorable at the time of that string of albums' original release, but I've checked out all those records through Craft's recent series of reissues, and that's given me a completely different perspective on the band's late-period albums. You can read my reviews of the albums Around The Sun (2004) and Collapse Into Now (2011) HERE, and you can also check out my impressions of Reveal (2001) and Accelerate (2008) HERE. This reissue of Up represents the final album in Craft's excellent series of R.E.M. catalog releases, and showcases the beginnings of the metamorphosis that became the final incarnation of the band.

The 25th Anniversary Edition of Up is being released in multiple formats, including a two LP, 180 gram set pressed on black vinyl at Memphis Record Pressing; this represents the first time the album has been made available as an LP since it was originally released in 1998. A limited edition green-marbled vinyl 2-LP version is also available, as well as an expanded 2-CD and 1-Bluray disc edition that includes an extensive selection of live tracks, high-resolution audio, music videos and the like. There's also an expanded, 2-CD music-only version, and high-resolution digital files are also being made available on all the major online streaming services. All release versions were remastered for the album's 25th anniversary from the original master tapes by Bob Ludwig at Gateway Mastering.

I was supplied with the 2 LP set for review; the LPs were encased in a single sleeve, double LP-style tip-on jacket, with original artwork pulled from Concord Music's vault. Each LP was inserted into a white paper inner sleeve that's lined with rice paper, which protects the LPs from paper dust, scratching, and static buildup. The jacket also held a printed insert that reproduces the song lyrics and technical information—Up represented the very first time ever that an R.E.M. album featured Michael Stipe's printed lyrics! My review copy was pressed on black vinyl, but the limited-quantity colored vinyl version is also available at REMHQ. Even though both color variants of the LPs may show as being sold out at Craft's webstore, they're very likely still available for purchase online or at your local independent record store. An independent record store that's nearby is stocking all versions of the 25th anniversary release of Up.

R.E.M., Up 25th Anniversary Edition. (2) 180 Gram Craft Recordings LPs, $38

1998's Up (Warner Brothers Records) was the band's eleventh studio album, following the departure of founding member and drummer Bill Berry. Up came on the heels of 1996's New Adventures In Hi-Fi, which is widely considered to be the band's last great record, and the last clear incarnation of their classic sound. Bill Berry apparently was okay following the serious health scare that preceded New Adventures In Hi-Fi, and the album was recorded in a variety of studio and live settings that were intended to show the spontaneity and energy of the band in concert. That continued into the early rehearsals for Up, but the group was stunned by Berry's sudden announcement of his retirement prior to proceeding into the studio to begin recordings for the new album. Guitarist Peter Buck and vocalist Michael Stipe both have made comments that Berry's absence nearly broke the band, and his shadow hung heavily over the recording sessions for Up. They also stated that regardless of all that, because Berry had participated in the rehearsals for Up, the resulting sound of the album probably wouldn't have changed much, even had Berry's been present in the studio. In his absence, the band began to reinvent themselves, and rather than replace the irreplaceable Bill Berry, relied on studio drummers (Joey Waronker and Barrett Martin) and drum machines to fill the void. The use of drum machines sounds bizarre on some of the tracks, but the band was already beginning to move in more of an electronic direction at that point.

Four singles were released from Up; the lead single, "Daysleeper" reached No. 1 on the Billboard Adult Alternative charts, and the follow-up, "Lotus," peaked at the No. 4 position. The Beach Boys-inspired "At My Most Beautiful" failed to crack the top ten, and the record's final single, "Suspicion," didn't even chart. Up opens with the electronica-inspired "Airportman," and from the very first notes, R.E.M. immediately puts you on notice that listening to Up will be a very different experience from anything the band had previously done. The crushing drums and Peter Buck's fuzzed-tone guitars help "Lotus" hearken back to the R.E.M. of the past, but the Fender Rhodes vamp that occupies the majority of the song almost gives it a Beck-like vibe (think his classic "Where It's At"). The synth-heavy "Hope" moves the record back into an electronica groove; the acoustic piano of "At My Most Beautiful" takes the momentum into an infinitely more laid-back direction. "Daysleeper," the album's biggest hit, leads with an ethereal synth figure, but Buck's acoustic guitars and Michael Stipe's crystalline vocal delivery are purely classic R.E.M. "Falls To Climb," the album's closer, takes a very subdued synth approach throughout most of the song's runtime, but Buck's acoustic guitar flourishes keep the song grounded in more familiar territory.

A noted trend began for the band with the release of Up; they became much more popular abroad than at home, and experienced tremendous popularity and increased album sales in Europe and the UK compared to their classic period in the US. While the album was certified Gold in the US, it reached the number two slot on the UK album charts, reaching Platinum sales levels in both the UK and the rest of Europe. Up debuted to mixed critical reception from the music press, but an initial flurry of sales and the strength of the single "Daysleeper" propelled the album to the number three position on the US album charts; it dropped significantly in the following weeks. Bassist Mike Mills, when asked about the less than impressive sales, countered that despite the lack of a strong commercial embrace of the album, "The point is to keep [the music] fresh and interesting and alive."

Craft's New Reissue of Up Makes for Superb Listening

Clicking my name in the header reveals the equipment I used to evaluate Up. For this review, I used my analog system that features the ProJect Classic EVO turntable that's mounted with a new Ortofon Quintet Bronze moving coil cartridge. It plays through a Musical Surroundings Phonomena II+ with its dedicated Michael Yee linear power supply; the signal is then fed to my PrimaLuna EVO 300 tube integrated amplifier playing into a pair of KLH Model Five loudspeakers. Ultralinear tube playback gave Up a visceral and dynamic sound quality over the KLH Model Fives.

The black vinyl LPs were perfection incarnate, with glossy surfaces, no imperfections, and the pressings were perfectly flat. No noticeable groove modulation noise was present on either LP, and both were acceptably quiet during playback; the black backgrounds offered by the LPs was important to hear through the music that was very quiet in nature (especially compared to a typical classic period R.E.M. albums). Otherwise, the sound quality of each LP was exceptionally musical and dynamic. For fans of the band, having access to high quality LP reissues like these from Craft Recordings will be enough of an incentive to acquire them, and for those wanting to take a deeper dive, the CD-and-or BD sets will prove the perfect vehicles. 

Up served as a startling announcement from R.E.M. that the band of old was no longer—and might never be again. That said, the change wasn't as jarring as I might have expected, and the often ethereal, synth-laden songs definitely took the band in a very different, but still musically enjoyable direction. Highly recommended.

Craft Recordings


All images courtesy of Craft Recordings