R.E.M.’s ‘Out of Time’ – A Classic Album Revisited
R.E.M.’s 1988 major-label debut ‘Green’ was kind of a bust. After playing the role of indie darlings for most of the decade, the Athens, Ga., quartet reportedly banked around $10 million to sign with Warner Bros. Records. Not that there’s anything downright awful about ‘Green,’ but the heavy production, sluggish songs and occasional misdirection certainly wasn’t the new-era reboot longtime fans were hoping for.
Label execs couldn’t have been too happy either when the album stalled outside of the Top 10 (R.E.M.’s previous record, ‘Document,’ hit No. 10). So after a massive world tour, the band widened its musical outline, putting together a set of near-pop songs in various studios around the country. The result, 1991’s ‘Out of Time,’ both played to R.E.M.’s legacy and advanced it. Employing mandolin, organ, harpsichord, strings, horns and even rapper KRS-One, the album is the group’s most diverse. And one of their all-time best.
From the opening the-airwaves-suck anthem ‘Radio Song’ (the one with KRS-One) to the closing unwanted-pregnancy duet with the B-52’s’ Kate Pierson ‘Me in Honey,’ ‘Out of Time’ contains some of the band’s best-constructed songs. The happily goofy ‘Shiny Happy People’ was a Top 10 hit, ‘Near Wild Heaven’ and ‘Texarkana’ featured bassist Mike Mills on vocals and the artsy-twangy ‘Country Feedback’ sounded like Michael Stipe made up the words as he went along.
And then there’s ‘Losing My Religion,’ R.E.M.’s first No. 1 and the best single of their career. Powered by a strumming mandolin riff by Peter Buck, and guided along by one of Stipe’s most engaging vocals, the song was an instant classic. It helped send ‘Out of Time’ to No. 1 and on its way to becoming the band’s biggest-selling LP. In a way, it’s R.E.M.’s last R.E.M. record. Afterward, they got dark (‘Automatic for the People’), loud (‘Monster’), deep (‘New Adventures in Hi-Fi’) and boring (everything since 1998). ‘Out of Time’ was the last time they weren’t anything but R.E.M.