R.E.M. – Out Of Time

R.E.M. are dead. Some people said R.E.M. died when he joined the army… no wait that was Elvis … some people say R.E.M died when Bill Berry left. I disagree with those people. I like Up (the first post Berry album) as well…

R.E.M. when they joined the army

Anyways, I wanted to talk about “Out Of Time” rather than their recentish break up. As I am now reduced to listening to music through a discman, my music has been limited to the few CDs I have left. One of these is “Out Of Time” R.E.M’s 1991 album.

I hadn’t listened to it in about a decade. I have two main memories of it. The first when I was 8 and it’s songs were ubiquitous on the radio (strange to think now) – i liked them but claimed not to to annoy my sister –  and the next when I was 16 and decided to rediscover it’s music. I remember loving the album at 16 butwith some reservations. Listening again has been a mixture of nostalgia and reappraisal for me.

The first thing that struck me about the album as a whole was how, ummm, unconfident it sounded. The majority of the songs were gorgeous but they really struck me as the sound of a band trying to work out what it took to be a commercial success. It took me days to work out why this was, and it might be more down to me than them.

Reason a) This is the record that sounds most like Idlewild wanted to be circa “The Remote Part”. as an 18 year old I loved that album but always new it to be minor league aping. So maybe I’m associating Out Of Time with that.

Reason b) This literally is the album that was their big commercial breakthrough. Not that they were small before but this, via “Losing My Religion”, made them megastars.

Reason the c) I realised that I had literally taken the way R.E.M. wrote songs and internalised it. I kept on thinking “that’s the kind of melody/harmony I’d write! And the off key high bits! and the panned bongos!”. As I am an unconfident songwriter, I assume them to be.

Me and Idlewild - unconfident songwriters

Back in 2001 (when I listened to it the most) I always thought Out Of Time sounded a million miles away from what came before it in The R.E.M. catalogue. Now I can see a lot of Green, the previous R.E.M. album, in it. Green, funnily enough, does sound like a band trying really hard to be pop (including “Pop Song 89” as it does) but is a lot of fun so I never considered it to be tryin too hard. The song I see the most of Green in is, errrrrrgggg, “Radio Song”

Radio Song. It’s like they took all the worst bits of Green and made a song out of them. Erstatz funk guitar, crappy keyboards, incongrous middle 8… then they asked KRS-One to phone in the worst rap ever. I can imagine the scene:

Michael Stipe: “That take was ok, KRS but could you make it more ‘uncle at a wedding'”

KRS: “hmmm how about ‘baby, baby, baby'”

Michael Stipe: “Yes! Now add some ‘toddler who’s had too many e-number’s and we’re there!”

So I skip the first track. And the second. “Losing My Religion” is a brilliant song. A brilliant song that I’ve heard a million times.

So the rest of the album? I’ll just write a list of words then put up a link to “Near Wild Heaven” .

Whistful, gorgeous, hopeful, yearning, introspective…


I like Shiny Happy People.


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