Monday, June 13, 2011

Best of the 90's: Out of Time by R.E.M.

Out Of Time (U.S. Version)If Document was a full turn toward pop-centric music, then Out of Time is the peak of R.E.M. doing pop-centric music.  They brought in guest singers and managed to create a collection of pop songs that fits together as a solid coherent piece of work.  They also managed to create a much more personal album.  This would be an important turn ahead of their next album Automatic For the People.

Currently Out of Time sits at number 88 on the Best of the 90's list.  Like most R.E.M. this is a solid pick for a road trip.

Following the Rhapsody rating method I give it 3 out of 5 stars for Pretty Good.


  1. Loved this record, too--even more than Document.

  2. Man, great band. So glad you reviewed these two today.

  3. "Out of Time" was released on March 12, 1991. It was R.E.M.'s first album since November 1988 -- the biggest gap between albums they had ever had. It was the last of their albums to be released while I was in law school in Connecticut, the first of their albums to hit number 1 on the U.S. album chart, and it basically made them the biggest band in the world at the time (with the possible exception of U-2, depending on your taste).

    I remember thinking, when I heard it for the first time, that it was far and away the best thing they had ever done. Their musicianship had gotten better and better since the days of "Reckoning," and their playing and singing on this album was at an extremely high level. Their phenomenal performance on MTV's "Unplugged" -- the beginning of which can be seen in Matthew's clip -- and Michael Stipe's spectacular version of "One" with U-2 at Bill Clinton's inaugural -- were clear statements of their intent to be seen as the best and most sophisticated musicians of any band working at the time.

    Also, they had really learned how to craft rich and beautiful melodies, and Michael Stipe had matured into a remarkable and sophisticated vocalist. Songs like "Half a World Away," "Losing My Religion," and "Near Wild Heaven" were so clean and pure that they sounded great even when stripped down -- which is why R.E.M. was so great unplugged.

    Different people interpreted the alternative movement in different ways. A lot of people -- and these were mainly the ones who couldn't forgive R.E.M. for going mainstream -- saw it as an attack on "the Man" and anything associated with commercialism. But to me, alternative music rested on the notion that what the people really wanted was good, old-fashioned singing and musicianship -- not the sort of fake, overly-produced pop that took over the airwaves in the mid-1980s. In other words, music would still use technology, but that technology would serve the listeners instead of overwhelming them. It would be, to steal a phrase, "Automatic for the People."

    I thought, and I still think, that faith of alternative musicians in quality and workmanship ultimately led to better and more popular music. So, to me, it always made sense that R.E.M. would become popular -- much more popular, in fact, than many of the acts that it implicitly criticized at the beginning of its career.

    I would also like to make one more personal comment about this album. To me, R.E.M. was always a very Southern band -- just as Southern as Lynyrd Skynyrd. In fact, they are much closer to my South -- the 1980's South of college kids, Izod shirts, and prosperity -- than any other band I ever heard. Listening to this music in Connecticut during the spring of 1991, I felt a homesickness and desperation to get out of New England that was almost painful. I just knew that whatever I did and wherever I ended up, I didn't want to spend my life feeling homesick. And I thank R.E.M. for helping me to figure this out.

  4. Yeah, I heard Michael Stipe say in an interview one time that, when they started making music together, they just wanted to make something that sounded different than "Tonight's the Night."

    Also, I absolutely associate R.E.M. with Athens, Ga. It's just stunning that the B-52s came out of that same town, right before R.E.M. did. I have never looked for them, but there are probably no shortage of stories where the R.E.M. guys talk about the role of the B-52s in R.E.M.'s career. (The bands are presumably friendly, given that the red-headed woman sang backup in some of R.E.M.'s songs.) But, anyway, from a distance, it looks to me like the B-52s were the flare that got New York's attention to pay attention to Athens and then say, "Hey, these R.E.M. guys are kind of a hick Velvet Underground."