October 9, 2007
As if the metronomic ambiance of “Airportman” was not enough to signal Up as a departure from anything the listener might have previously associated with R.E.M.’s sound, the ersatz R&B number “Lotus” drops in immediately afterwards to further mess with the audience’s preconceptions. The arrangement is like a checklist of odd textural elements — perky carnival organ, discordant strings, psychedelic guitar, odd vocal effects that warp Michael Stipe’s voice into something rather ghoulish — but it all somehow falls in place around one of the best grooves of the band’s career. The song is playful yet twisted; the sound of a man self-consciously flailing about in a manic stage between bouts of depression, and making an exhibitionistic show of his attempts to self-medicate.
More than any other track on the album, “Lotus” has a sound that practically screams “I was written and recorded in the late ’90.” It aims for lushness but seems inadvertently chilly and brittle, much like most of Jon Brion’s work from the era, particularly with Fiona Apple. Sure, “Lotus” is a bit more perverse and unusual, but even the arrangement’s most counter-intuitive decisions seem very much of its time, and dependent upon the technology of that particular moment.