R.E.M. – Out Of Time

Out Of Time (1991)

B

1. Radio Song 2. Losing My Religion 3. Low 4. Near Wild Heaven 5. Endgame 6. Shiny Happy People 7. Belong 8. Half A World Away 9. Texarkana 10. Country Feedback 11. Me In Honey

 

The confused atmosphere of Green has dissipated, and they sound like they know what they’re doing again, but if you’re allergic to sugary substances, you might be a little wary of the direction they’ve mind up their minds to go in. Out Of Time capitalizes on the light and fluffy bubblegum approach of “Stand” and, buoyed by the presence of “Losing My Religion,” became a mega hit – one of the top selling albums of 1991, my glorious year of birth. I guess it came a few months before Nevermind broke, so as far as I can tell, mark this as the last time something dominated the pop charts that sounded more like the Turtles than Nirvana.

Look, I know “Shiny Happy People” probably makes you want to throw up by now, seeing as it’s so over the top and syrupy that it’s probably the only song in history that is utterly impossible to like in anything but an ironic manner (which I certainly do, with the most sheepish pleasure possible. Though it was certainly vastly improved upon by the post-Berry trio’s rewritten version on Sesame Street several years later. That clip is hilarious, because Stipe is totally into it and having a great time and Mills and Buck are just looking around perturbedly like “what the fuck are we doing here”). The band fucking hates it; they’ve never performed it live and loathe the fact that it has become one of their best-known songs. And it’s pretty unavoidable, sitting right smack in the middle of this album. But you know what… just about every song here has a clear and strong melody, which is plenty more than you can say about most of Green. I mean, if you’re a grindcore fan, this album will probably cause you to break out in hives, but I’ve already expressed my predilection for dumb, catchy pop songs, so the lighter material here sits all right with me. So does that mean I like “Radio Song?” No. Stupid song. KRS-One guest raps idiotically over a bed of hammy plastic funk guitars and popping Seinfeld bass to create a track that seems designed to be the theme song to a terrible early 90’s sitcom about a DJ and the wacky shenanigans he gets into down at the station (incidentally, apparently “Stand” was actually used as a sitcom theme song in the early 90’s, so it’s not like I’m reaching here).

I’ll be the first to admit that an entire album of “Shiny Happy People” and “Radio Song” would blow. And Out Of Time isn’t that album, even if it may fool you into thinking it is for several reasons – like the fact that the mix is sparkly clean like on Document but the songs lack any of the rock heft that album had. Plus there are lots of fruity strings and organs and vocals by Kate Pierson and other bubblegum pop adornments, so just about every song sounds bright and happy (and rather slight) even if they aren’t actually. Or that Mills sings lead on two songs and sounds nerdy in doing so (some people are just made for backup vocals and nothing more). But there are actually several more serious compositions here than there are novelty ones. Start with “Losing My Religion,” for one. Listening to it, I realize it has no chorus, or really any memorable hook beyond Buck’s plucking during the intro, so I have no idea why or how it became as a big a hit as it did, but it’s a great song and proves that Buck just needed a couple of years to learn how to use the mandolin in a conscientious manner. “Country Feedback” sounds like its title, and/or something Neil Young could’ve done during any non-Trans portion of his career. It’s Stipe’s favorite R.E.M. song by his own admission, I guess because that guy loves his own idiosyncratic, stream-of-conscious lyricism for some reason. But regardless, it’s actually a pretty haunting song, despite the fact that the slick nature of the album’s production actively works against any of the songs’ ability to sound like anything resembling “haunting.” My other favorite is “Me In Honey,” which has a fuzzy guitar on it and makes me bounce up and down happily. You’ll note that these are the final two songs in the running order, which means that unlike the last few REM records the album doesn’t completely crap out at the end, for which I am very appreciative.

But the album could’ve been better with some easily made changes. It’s baffling that they included half-written throwaways like the waaaaaaaaay too long lullaby-like instrumental “Endgame” or “Belong” (though I’ve warmed to that one… the verses are worthless, but the wordless chorus sections are beautiful. Jeez, I think Mills’ voice dominates this album almost as much as Stipe’s does. Michael must’ve been too busy fretting about his hair loss to sing as much as he should have) in lieu of great songs like “Fretless” and “It’s A Free World, Baby,” which were recorded during these sessions and used as B-sides. They’re both better than the majority of the material on the album, and more serious, too – this record could’ve definitely used some of the minor key stateliness of “Fretless.” Perhaps if they were included, the album wouldn’t have appeared as cotton candy sweet as it does. But I’m guessing that with the oodles of cash it made them, REM are just fine with it the way it is.



One Comment

  1. Justin wrote:

    My first experience of R.E.M. came with this album and I often find myself returning to it when I need my “fix.” Considered an aberration at the time it was released, for its acoustic instruments and lush orchestrations, Out of Time is actually not too far removed from the quieter moments explored on Green. Both albums feature nature imagery, descriptions of intimate human relationships, feelings of loss or of being lost along with the requisite rock n’ roll musical platform of bass, drums, vocals and electric guitars.

    In a nutshell, I don’t know that the album is too odd for R.E.M. but certainly was out of place in 1991’s musical landscape. It holds up quite well after twenty years (!) I still love this album. Highlights include: “Low,” “Country Feedback,” “Losing My Religion” and “Texarkana” where Michael Stipe delivers one of his best vocal performances singing the background vocal.


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