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.
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.
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.
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.