R.E.M. – Out of Time

Out of TimeI first heard “Losing My Religion” on a Top 40 radio station shortly after its release. I thought it was an OK song, but nothing special. I was clearly in the minority in that view, as the single and video became hugely popular. Eventually I borrowed a copy of Out of Time from a friend, and I’ve been an R.E.M. fan ever since. The album, the band’s best-selling in the United States, is full of beautiful songs that highlight R.E.M.’s eagerness to challenge conventions and shake up its own status quo.

After turning out pretty much an album a year throughout the 80s, Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe slowed down for the writing of Out of Time. They often switched instruments; Berry, for example, wrote most of the bass lines while Mills worked heavily with pianos and keyboards. They brought in unusual instrumentation, like the harpsichord on “Half a World Away,” and guest vocalists like the B-52s’ Kate Pearson (on “Shiny Happy People” and “Me In Honey”) and KRS-One (on “Radio Song”). Mike Mills sang lead vocals on not one but two songs, “Near Wild Heaven” and “Texarkana.” (I love Mills’ work, but I think he’s better suited for support and backup vocals. He does do a nice job on “Texarkana,” whose lyrics he wrote when Stipe found himself unable to come up with anything for the song.) Stipe decided to personalize his lyrics; he described Out of Time as an album full of love songs, after having heavily mined political territory on the band’s previous three albums. The ornate arrangements work very well; Buck described the band as “rock and roll band that plays sitting down” in this time period, and it’s a very apt description.

rating: 4 out of 4 While “Losing My Religion” has certainly grown on me over the years, it’s still not my favorite song on the album. I prefer “Radio Song,” “Me in Honey,” and “Half a World Away.” In none of those songs am I very confident about what Stipe is trying to say, although I think the emotion of his vocal performance more than makes up for the ambiguity of his lyrics. Musically, the first two are among the faster-paced, clearly-rock songs on the album, while the latter’s harpsichord makes it the most frequently cited example of the album’s “baroque” influence. Slower songs like “Low” and “Endgame” have to strike me in the right frame of mind; they have the potential to simply come off as depressing, but in the right context they’re both meditative and cathartic. The mournful “Country Feedback” has become quite popular amongst the band’s fan base; in fact, it was the most requested song of the band’s 2003 tour.

Order this CD

  1. Radio Song (4:12)
  2. Losing My Relgion (4:26)
  3. Low (4:55)
  4. Near Wild Heaven (3:17)
  5. Endgame (3:48)
  6. Shiny Happy People (3:44)
  7. Belong (4:03)
  8. Half a World Away (3:26)
  9. Texarkana (3:36)
  10. Country Feedback (4:07)
  11. Me In Honey (4:06)

Released by: Warner Bros.
Release date: 1991
Total running time: 44:10