The three-legged dog years: All R.E.M.'s post-Bill Berry albums ranked

Follow the meanderings of the three-legged dog on their final five albums
Live 8/GettyImages
2 of 6

Up (1998)

Up sounds like dating someone who's not over their ex. Bill Berry may not be on Up, but his absence is all over it. It sounds as if R.E.M. are trying to honour Berry's absence by changing their sound to something airier and less percussive, rather than simply hiring a session drummer and trying to continue as if nothing's changed. But that makes Up an album about absence and emptiness, which is no fun for anyone.

Absence and emptiness are very relatable feelings; if R.E.M. had managed to channel them into the music, it would've been quintessential R.E.M., invigoratingly intimate and vulnerable. But Up maintains the pretense that they're moving on to a new Berry-less sound. That sound is, in reality, maudlin experimentation that goes nowhere.

The frustrating thing is that to call R.E.M.'s music Maudlin is like calling water wet, yet they usually make it work. Can you imagine "Everybody Hurts" being a good song, let alone a great song if it were by any other band? But where "Everybody Hurts" is anthemic, the equivalent tracks on Up (and there are a lot of them) just wallow.

Like any ill-fated romance, Up starts with passion, opening track "Lotus" is deceptively lively and fun. What's strange is that "Lotus" and Up's other highlights, like the defiant "Walk Unafraid" and the lovely "Daysleeper" are pretty excellent, and come off as portraits of what Up should've been. "Daysleeper" and "At My Most Beautiful" even have that raw emotionality that the maudlin experimental tracks were going for. "At My Most Beautiful" is even a little uncomfortably emotional, but the fearlessness it takes to write songs like that is what we love about R.E.M.

Those highlights, especially "At My Most Beautiful" also stand out for being too well-developed to fit in here. "At My Most Beautiful" goes somewhere, building to an orchestral crescendo, where most of the other tracks end with a whimper.

Up's greatest strength is its experimentation, and the best illustration of how experimental Up gets is "Hope," which sounds like "Suzanne" by Leonard Cohen played on a Pacman machine. R.E.M. never stood still, and they deserve credit for trying something so new. It's just a shame we can't have a little bit of fun.

Best lyric:

The bull and the bear are marking their territories
They're leading the blind with their international glories
I am the screen, the blinding light
I'm the screen, I work at night

From "Daysleeper"