R.E.M.'s first recording since the departure of longtime drummer Bill Berry, they prove yet again that less really can be more. Although they employ a live drummer on several tracks (most notably Joey Waronker
from Beck's band and Barrett Martin from Tuatara
), several tracks feature the chatter of drum machines or no percussion whatsoever. The synthetic percussion that starts off "Airportman" helped induce a lot of silly hype (headline writers had a field day with "Electronica for the People" and "Newer Adventures in Hi-Fi"), but it was more a case of R.E.M. finding ways to turn up the tempo without becoming bombastic. Like that of Automatic for the People,
the mood is deliberately ratcheted down, but it isn't quite somber. "Lotus" and "Daysleeper" are pointed and aggressive, but most of the songs are introspective and meticulously arranged. The lack of traditional percussion provides more space for mandolins, strings, and layers of keyboards. Up
proves that, after 13 recordings, R.E.M. has lost none of their ambition -- or their ability to rethink the rock song.