Best albums of 1991: #4 R.E.M. “Out of time”

This blog is now exactly two months shy of celebrating its fourth anniversary and already, R.E.M. has been featured on this pages in eight separate posts, this one, now, being the ninth. I’m starting to get worried that I am going to run out of nice things to say about the iconic rock band from Athens, Georgia. Because, yeah, I am fairly certain that this won’t be their last appearance, as long as I continue making lists and blathering on about music.

So let’s start with this:

“Out of time” is the seventh studio album to be released by the quartet of Bill Berry, Mike Mills, Peter Buck, and Michael Stipe. It was the group’s second major label release and third collaboration with producer Scott Litt. This was the album that finished the job started by 1988’s “Green” in turning a cult, college radio band into an international rock phenomenon and household name. It sold four and a half million copies in the U.S. and more than 18 million worldwide, earning them gold and platinum status in a bunch of countries, and winning them three, count them, one, two, three Grammys.

And how about this:

I don’t often agree with what’s written on venerated music site Pitchfork.com, but they make three excellent points on their hindsight review of “Out of time”’s 25th anniversary reissue: 1. There are many who wish “Shiny happy people” out of existence; 2. It is the sunlight to the nocturnal sequel of “Automatic for the people”, and; 3. It is a rare example of an album that nets a group exponentially more followers without pissing off the diehards.

I remember borrowing a CD copy of “Out of time” from my friend Tim shortly after its release because I had already fallen in love with “Losing my religion” and as I’ve already recounted in a post on that very song, I had the album on repeat while attempting to strip the wallpaper from the walls in the upstairs hallway in the house in which I grew up. The bright, yellow rays of music eased the mundane task to which I was set and by the third go around, I was singing along to many of its tracks and smiling to myself. Sore and tired, I recorded a copy for myself to cassette later that night but it wasn’t one that lasted or saw many plays. And that was only because I not long after bought a proper copy for my burgeoning compact disc collection.

There’s so many great tracks on this album, eleven, to be exact, and you probably don’t really need to be reminded of or introduced to the wonders “Out of time”, but I do have a template to follow with these posts. So to that end, here’s my three picks for you. Enjoy.


”Near wild heaven”: Track number four was the third single to be released off “Out of time” and is the first one to be released by the band whose lyrics were written and sung by bassist Mike Mills. It is jangly and boppy and full of sparkles and lemon yellow sunlight. Stipe adds his touch on vocals in the background during the chorus, alongside those of Kate Pierson (The B-52s) who also appears on “Shiny happy people”. And though both those tracks are heightened with her touch, the bubble gum bubbles blown just that much bigger, this one lacks some of the kitsch of the other, leaving the good mood smiles without so much saccharine. With all these good feels it’s easy to lose track of the fact that it’s a song about the beginning of the end of a relationship.”Whenever we hold each other, we hold each other, there’s a feeling that’s going. Something has gone wrong.” And yet, you can’t help but feel, with all those “ba ba ba ba”s, that there’s some silver lining in there somewhere and somehow things will all turn out.

”Belong”: A rumbling bass line, the snap of fingers, and a world-filling jangle of guitars. Michael Stipe speaking through the verses in that deep, serious voice of his, demanding to be heard, demanding change, demanding everyone to take up the fight. “Her world collapsed early Sunday morning. She got up from the kitchen table, folded the newspaper and silenced the radio. Those creatures jumped the barricades and have headed for the sea.” And at the chorus, if you can even call it that, it is voices without words, all plaintively calling into the ether, ecstatic messaging against hatred, and a music so beautiful and so insistent. It is a woman and her child, it is a man and his wife, it is two teenagers figuring out love, lust, and sex, it is all of us. We all need to belong and Michael Stipe is just the one to lead us forward.

”Losing my religion”: Yeah. “That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spot-light, losing my religion.” If you’ve done any other reading on this song, especially on this site, or even if you’re just in the know, that last bit is quite poignant. Because who hasn’t had that moment where you’ve just lost your sh*t and feel like everyone is there looking at you and there’s nowhere to which to escape. Hell. Stipe is playing with a breakdown and painting it so beautifully, as only R.E.M. can do. It’s that mandolin that strikes you from the first, sticking out like a sore thumb against Bill Berry’s rock and roll drum and Mike Mills stomach rumbling bass line. If you pretend that three decades haven’t passed listening to it and that all the songs that have followed have never happened, you might think to yourself that it’s not an obvious pop song, not an obvious hit single. And yet, there it is with all the accolades bestowed upon it (it has also appeared on these pages at #13 on best tunes of 1991 list and #3 on my all-time favourite R.E.M. tunes list), it really is just a wondrous bit of religion.


Check back two Thursdays from today for album #3. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin “Godfodder”
9. Spirit Of The West “Go figure”
8. Chapterhouse  “Whirlpool”
7. Blur “Leisure”
6. Levellers “Levelling the land”
5. The Wonder Stuff “Never loved Elvis”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

7 Replies to “Best albums of 1991: #4 R.E.M. “Out of time””

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