R.E.M. - Out Of Time
Out Of Time was R.E.M.'s second album for Warner Brothers, and their seventh overall, and it was released in March of 1991. It was also the first album for which they did not tour; after a global jaunt supporting Green, the band were pretty much sick of touring. Instead, they released videos - and not just for their singles. Michael Stipe handled most of the band's visuals, and embraced the medium with relish; something Peter Buck didn't do - he has never looked even remotely happy in an R.E.M. video. The band soon learned that a decent video (like the award-winning, and somewhat controversial, one for Losing My Religion), and a little marketing push, could be just as effective as months on the road at promoting an album.
Out Of Time also features a number of guests. Rapper KRS-1 guests on Radio Song, Kate Pierson of the B-52s provides vocals on several tracks, and Peter Holsapple, an old acquaintance of the band (and the man who had originally recommended Mitch Easter to produce their first recordings) came close to joining the band full time, having played live with them on the Green tour, and played on almost every song on Out Of Time. In the end, though, he left after Out Of Time because the band wouldn't let him write with them.
The album title was apparently chosen because they were, actually, out of time to choose an album title. Provisional titles included Fiction, Cat Butt, Love And Squalor (after J.D. Salinger's For Esme, With Love And Squalor), Borehole and Imitation Crab Meat; when they couldn't all agree on a title, Mills said "guys, we're out of time...."
- Radio Song
- Losing My Religion
- Near Wild Heaven
- Shiny Happy People
- Half A World Away
- Country Feedback
- Me In Honey
All songs written by Berry
Musically, Out of Time is quite a mixed bag, even more so than Green. Because they had decided beforehand not to tour, the band decided on using more complex arrangements, with steel guitar, string quartets and mandolins popping up all over the place. Backing away from the political lyrics that had appeared on their last three albums, Out Of Time is a much more personal work, dealing with depression (Low, Country Feedback), pregnancy (Me In Honey), love (Half A World Away); the most political the album got was Stipe trading lines with KRS-1 about the amount of inane tripe appearing on the radio.
The two big songs, in terms of airplay, were definitely Losing My Religion and Shiny Happy People; two polar opposites, practically. Losing my Religion was a huge hit (the biggest selling post-war single in Israel, apparently, and a huge top ten hit in the most unlikely places), but was understandably misinterpreted by many. The phrase itself is apparently meant to mean being at the end of one's tether, or at one's wits end. Stipe has variously referred to it as "an extention of World Leader Pretend", a "song of unrequited love", and an attempt to write Every Breath You Take (by the Police). Peter Buck has told journalists that he thought the song was autobiographical. It's not surpising that the song was misinterpreted, given the religious imagery used in its video; perhaps Stipe wanted to cause some controversy...
At the other end of the spectrum, we have Shiny Happy People, an inane pop song, with a simply wonderful three-part harmony between Stipe, Mills and Kate Pierson. The video is great fun too; Stipe is dressed in an overlarge yellow suit (reminiscent of the Talking Heads' David Byrne), Pierson looks absolutely beautiful, Bill Berry does some wonderful mugging at the camera, and everybody looks like they're enjoying themselves - apart from Peter Buck, of course, who's wearing black, and sunglasses, and strumming his guitar without much enthusiasm. He later described the song as being "so relentlessly upbeat that you just want to throw up".
One unusual point about the album is that Mike Mills gets not one, but two lead vocals on the album - on Texarcana, a baroque, string-laden ballad, and the beautiful Near Wild Heaven. The album also has an instrumental track, Endgame, which is a little too sweet for my liking. Belong is a spoken-word piece; Stipe apparently recorded the vocal track in one go, on a walkman in his car as he came up with it. The words tell an odd tale, illustrating the bond between mother and child. Low and Country Feedback are two of my favourites from Out Of Time; Low deals with manic depression ("I've been laughing, laughing/Way up high, high/In between/Down below"), to a low-key musical backdrop of mainly just bass and keyboards, with some well-chosen string flourishes. Country Feedback does exactly what it says on the tin - it's a sombre country ballad, with steel guitar, and controlled feedback from Peter Buck.
To sum up, Out Of Time is a wonderful varied piece of work, and the album that propelled R.E.M. into the stratosphere. Green was a successful album, but having toured the world for a year, everybody knew who they were, and nearly everybody would become familiar with Out Of Time, as well as its even more famous successor, Automatic For The People.