THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 32)

And so we reach what can be described as R.E.M.’s “difficult period”. Sessions began on the band’s 11th album in 1997, but during the early rehearsals, drummer Bill Berry quit. Bill had fallen seriously ill during the Monster tour and no longer wanted to travel. He retired and became a farmer, leaving Buck, Mills and Stipe to continue as a trio. But Berry wasn’t just R.E.M.’s drummer – his part in the band’s overall sound and creative process was just as important as that of the other members, and many feel his departure signalled the start of a downward spiral for the band.

Apparently though, the early Up sessions already incorporated the electronic elements that were embedded in the finished record’s sound. The band have stated that even if Bill had stayed, Up would have sounded much the same. But despite this shift in dynamic, the album’s lead single sounded familiar and warm.

mp3: R.E.M – Daysleeper (single edit)

Daysleeper revolves around Peter Buck’s acoustic guitar and Mike Mills’ harmonium (or synth with a harmonium setting), and is a song about someone who sleeps during the day. Whoever said Michael Stipe’s lyrics were esoteric? “I was in New York… walking down the steps of this building. I come to a door and there’s a sign on it that says ‘Daysleeper’, and I walked a lot more quietly down the steps, thinking about that poor person who’s trying to sleep, and me and my big old boots interrupting her sleep. So I wrote this song about a daysleeper that’s working an 11–7 shift and how furious the balance is between the life that you live and the work that you have to do in order to support the life that you live.”

My initial reaction was one of indifference – it was pretty much R.E.M. by numbers as far as I was concerned – but repeated listening paid dividends. Having recently revisited the song, I think it really is a bit of a gem melodically and one of Up’s more memorable moments. It even yielded a prequel; the band’s next album Reveal opened with The Lifting which features the same character.

Released on 12th October 1998, Daysleeper became R.E.M.’s sixth Top 10 hit, peaking at number 6 one week after its release. It came in three official formats, all of which contained the single edit of the title track (basically it was the album version with the few seconds of intro at the very beginning cut). The cassette and CD single included the instrumental track Emphysema, a light, bossanova rhythm with keyboards and badly-played accordion over the top. Another of those disposable b-sides you really don’t need.

mp3: R.E.M – Emphysema

The CD also contained a version of another of Up’s highlights, Why Not Smile. This version is much shorter, more sparsely arranged, and is utterly gorgeous. Buck’s acoustic arpeggios and Mills’ organ hold it together while Stipe sings to someone so utterly despondent, he feels his words just cannot get through. Regardless, he reassures this person that he is there for them. That snarly feedback bit that comes in at the second verse is apparently Stipe’s debut on guitar! This version of Why Not Smile originally featured a few months earlier on a sampler CD with the southern literary magazine Oxford American, hence the title.

mp3: R.E.M – Why Not Smile [Oxford American version]

The third format was, sadly, not vinyl (though as had been the trend with the previous album, jukebox editions were pressed) but a 3” collectible CD. As well as Daysleeper, it included a live, in the studio take, on another Up track Sad Professor, an altogether cleaner-sounding version than the feedback-drenched album track. I much prefer the album version personally, but it’s never been a big fave.

mp3: R.E.M – Sad Professor [live in the studio]

Up sounded nothing like any other R.E.M. album. Stylistically it was all over the place, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have some great, great moments on it. Its main fault is its length. There are too many songs on it in my opinion and a third of them are average at best. I have my own 10-track alternative version which I really like much better than the real thing. And yes, Daysleeper is included.

The Robster

11 thoughts on “THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF R.E.M. (Part 32)

  1. I stumbled upon Daysleeper years and years after it was released and was really quite surprised how much I liked the song. It has stood the test of time as well. I enjoy the restraint that both the band and Stipe use in their performance. There is just enough of the familiar about it that it sits well among their best known songs, while still having its own subtle individuality. Oh, but the video…one of the worst I have ever seen.

  2. A really interesting post. I wasn’t following R.E.M. at this point, but it was intriguing to read about the musical direction of the band possibly being little different had Bill Berry remained. Daysleeper is only really familiar to me from the In Time/In View compilations but it is one that I always enjoy listening to when it pops up. It doesn’t suffer from the minor single edit. The Oxford American version of Why Not Smile was also on In Time and it’s the only version I know, but I love it. The other two songs are new to me: Emphysema is about three times longer than it really needs to be and even then would remain disposable; I liked Sad Professor much more and it’s abrupt ending at 2:36 makes me wish it had carried on a bit longer.

    I’ve not heard Up so I don’t have a particular view on its sequencing or length. Even so, I’m sure I’m not the only one who is intrigued to know what The Robster’s 10-track version would be. I’m running out of superlatives for this series, but it is a highlight of my Sunday morning reading. Thanks!

  3. Up was the first R.E.M. album for me that I liked but quickly got out of the habit of listening to. The band subsequently said that the problem was its sequencing but I’m attracted to the notion that it is too long. I second the thought I’d like to see the 10 track version!

    Totally get the R.E.M. by numbers thing – yet these singles tend to stand the test of time. Not unrelated I think the problem with post-Bill R.E.M. was that they had little new to say after he left and Up probably said quite a chunk of that.

  4. After 11 studio LPs Daysleeper proved for me that R.E.M. were still relevant and could, despite the slim-downed personnel, create a thing of beauty. Stipe’s vocal is among one of his very best.

  5. As with Khayem, it is always interesting to read that the members of the band said that Up would have been very similar had Bill Berry not left. I alwyas felt that it sounded like a band trying on a range of new styles/ sounds to see which fitted this newly three-legged dog the best.
    Not floundering but continuing the exploration of “New Adventures in Hi-Fi”.

    Daysleeper is one of the tracks that feels a little inessential on the album and is a pleasnt enough single – reassuring that they are not that-much changed.

    But the version of “Why Not Smile”! I’ve got the “In Time” bonus and somehow missed it. How? A little gem. Thanks Robster for drawing it to my attention.

    And spot on about the length of “Up” being one of its biggest drawbacks. As with so many albums of the time, more is less. I suppose the only problem is that none of us would be able to agree to the tracklisting of the 10-track version!! Music fans eh?

  6. I want to say thanks to everyone for your kind comments over the duration of this series. It warms my cockles every Sunday morning, it really does! I’ve been thinking about doing a short series of R.E.M. album re-evaluations over at my place, the reactions to this series have convinced me to do it. So my 10-track version of Up will feature!

  7. I really liked up , mainly as it did sound very different. Like a lot of the comments first hearing the lp was a bit indifferent to Daysleeper as it sounded so REM like .
    However grown to like it more and more

  8. Thanks to The Robster and JC for reloading The Sad Professor. I thought R.E.M. were going for an unexpected and abrupt end ala Dinosaur Jr.’s cover of Just Like Heaven…! Great to hear the song in its full glory. And a big thumbs up to the follow up album series at Is This The Life? Looking forward to it!

  9. Always had time for Daysleeper, and for once I knew the b-sides.
    Why Not Smile is a corker and Up has some decent stuff. Like others,
    I remain thankful for this series and use it to lift Mondays to heights
    they’re not supposed to reach.

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