Categories
Albums

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.

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 1992: #3 R.E.M. “Nightswimming”

<< #4    |    #2 >>

“Automatic for the people”.

It was indisputably R.E.M.’s finest hour and I’m not just talking commercially. Sure, the album spawned six singles and went gold and platinum for sales in pretty much every country. However, it was also universally acclaimed. And for very good reason: There’s not a single bad track on the album.

For me, though, and as I mentioned back when I wrote about “Sweetness follows” when it came in at the number twenty spot on this very list, it’s the less obvious tracks, not the hit singles, that have become my favourites on this album. And yes, I know. “Nightswimming” was actually released as a single but I didn’t actually know that until about three years ago when I wrote the piece counting down my top five favourite R.E.M. tunes on which this song appears at the number two spot. I am thinking that the single might not have gotten a wide release here in North America because it didn’t make the charts here, only placing in England and Australia, and a track this great should definitely have placed, given the chance.

It was originally recorded as a demo for “Out of time” but was used instead for the following album. The original recording had Michael Stipe singing over top Mike Mills’ piano and was augmented by a string arrangement put together by Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, along with a forlorn oboe to seal the deal. Mills’s piano doesn’t meander or dance or tiptoe. Instead, it eddies in place, like a whirlpool to get caught in, a bit of danger that might be heightened if the swimming hole was ventured upon at night.

“Nightswimming deserves a quiet night
The photograph on the dashboard, taken years ago”

The penultimate track on “Automatic for the people” is a quiet wonder, Mills and Stipe without Buck and Berry. A song about memories and remembering. A track that brings back many memories. Many of them driving in a car at night. In the city. On a backroad. Memories that are mine and memories that aren’t mine. But could be.

“Nightswimming, remembering that night
September’s coming soon
I’m pining for the moon”

There’s a sadness in Stipe’s lyrics and in his plaintive voice. Perhaps there’s regret in those memories, a sentiment never expressed, a kiss never stolen, a nakedness needlessly covered up. Yet there’s also the heavy weight of nostalgia, the excitement of youth lost forever. It’s something one can never forget. And never should.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.

Categories
Tunes

Best tunes of 1992: #20 R.E.M. “Sweetness follows”

<< #21    |    #19 >>

If you were alive back in 1992, you knew R.E.M.’s  “Automatic for the people”. If not the whole album, at the very least, one of or a handful of its six (!) amazing singles.

I had already become a fan of R.E.M. by the time it was released, having discovered them with 1988’s “Green”, bought a copy of 1991’s “Out of time”, and gone back to explore their back catalogue, I was eagerly awaiting this album’s release. When I originally heard the first single, “Drive”, I knew we were in for it. And we definitely we. Now more than 25 years after its release, it is easily considered their finest hour. It was also a huge commercial success, selling millions upon millions worldwide and obtaining platinum status, in some cases multiple times over, in more than ten countries.

It was the singles that I loved from the beginning and they were definitely great but I’d be hard-pressed to point out a weak song on the album. And nowadays, it’s the less obvious that have stuck with me and become favourites. Case in point is today’s focus, “Sweetness follows”. It was never released as a single and is almost hidden on the album at track six, just behind the lone instrumental tune on the album. But it is there nonetheless. Beautiful.

I think its inclusion on the soundtrack for Cameron Crowe’s “Vanilla sky”, almost a decade later, was what did it for me. The film itself wasn’t wonderful, a Hollywood remake of an excellent Spanish film, and starring Tom Cruise, but the soundtrack was a masterpiece. Glancing at the names, you might be forgiven for calling it eclectic. Listening to it, especially as a backdrop to the film, is a whole different experience and it almost saves the film, giving it its overarching mood and surreal feel. This song’s appearance late in the film was a pleasant surprise but while watching it play out, I realized that I may have not ever listened to it properly before that moment.

The reverberating and distorted cello shares a space with an acoustic strum, a sustained organ wash, and of course, Stipe’s inimitable vocals, forelorn, sad, and lost. It is all about death and loss and darkness and of course, the sun rising after the bleakest of nights, washing away the dread and sadness and the most heart-wrenching of nightmares.

“Oh, oh, but sweetness follows.”

Yep. Beautiful.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 1992 list, click here.