Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Up and Down

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Up and Down

Article excerpt

Up * REM * Warner Bros.

Drummer Bill Berry did the right thing by leaving. After reaching its career peak with Automatic For the People, REM has been recycling itself with diminishing rewards. Monster was mediocre grunge, the tour worse, and when New Adventures in Hi-Fi continued to downplay the band's melodic strengths, the cult heroes' once-massive mainstream audience turned to Hootie. Check any used CD store and you'll find as many returned copies of Monster as you will of anything by Paula Abdul.

Sounding more like a collection of oddball B-sides than the work of crowd-pleasers not long ago considered America's fined rockers, Up is unlikely to win back many fans. It lacks percussive propulsion, guitar grit, or hummable hooks--the very stuff that endeared these otherwise experimental mumblers to millions. Nothing sounds like a hit, particularly in the current youth/pop/junk-food-funk radio climate. Yet this time around REM seems resigned to its fallen status, as if deliberately nurturing disappointment, and that difference makes for individual--albeit uncommercial--art.

Without much drumming, volume, or speed, the remaining trio get intimate. Being that this is REM, that intimacy is oblique, as if someone is whispering so near to your ear, you can't understand what they're saying but you're tickled by the close contact. It could be that Michael Stipe--an executive producer of Todd Haynes's Velvet Goldmine--has been absorbing the uneasy atmospherics of early Roxy Music or that Peter Buck's instrumental side project Tuatara has given this guitarist a taste of the textures that can be achieved when rock bravado is abandoned. …

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