Friday, June 9, 2023

REM #7: Out of Time

Release Date: March 12, 1991

Members: Michael Stipe (vocals); Peter Buck (guitars); Michael Mills (bass, keyboards); Bill Berry (percussion)

Produced by Scott Litt & REM

Side One: Radio Song; Losing My Religion; Low; Near Wild Heaven; Endgame

Side Two: Shiny Happy People; Belong; Half a World Away; Texarkana; Country Feedback; Me in Honey

After an exhaustive tour in 1989 in support of Green, REM kept a low profile for a few years but returned with another massively successful album in 1991, Out of Time. Eclectic and more introspective than Green, the record solidified REM as a musical force for the '90s.

"Radio Song" opens the album with melodic hooks and mass media commentary, with hip hop artist KRS-One providing backup vocals. "Losing My Religion" became REM's biggest hit to date, with an iconic video that got constant airplay on MTV. The title was according to Michael Stipe a Southern expression for a heart breaking, the soul-searching lyrics made it perfect anthem about angst and young adulthood. "Low" is more of a hypnotic pop song, the barebones arrangement amplifies the talents of the entire band: Berry's moody percussion, Mills playing a haunting organ, Buck with a catchy riff, and Stipe's distinct vocal performance. "Near Wild Heaven" was written and sung by Mills is more of an upbeat love song with echoes of '60s pop. "Endgame" is an elegant instrumental, a dreamy psychedelia piece.

Another hit single, "Shiny Happy People" featured Kate Pierson from the B-52's on vocals, was on the surface readily made for Sesame Street (according to Stipe the lyrics were inspired Chinese State propaganda after the Tiananmen Square protests). A controversial song in the REM canon, but it shouldn't be. On "Belong" Stipe sings in spoken word lyrics, returning to familiar themes of family bonds and freedom. "Half A World Away" blends classical with pop, thematically similar to the previous track. "Texarkana" is a Gen-X Americana, while "Country Feedback" continues in sojourn mode. "Me in Honey" manages to evolve into an uplifting rocker to end the album.

Out of Time is a confident, and at times, great record. The band was meeting and experimenting with the challenge of achieving (and being) a mainstream success. With a mass audience ready to embrace them, REM was starting to transcend their college rock sound and becoming a cultural force through their own music and personas. 

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