- 02 May 01
With 'Green' and its attendant world tour finally thrusting R.E.M. into the mainstream after seven years as the worst-kept secret in the Western hemisphere, it was odds-on that, given the band's predilection for avoiding the obvious, the follow-up would bear little relation to its illustrious predecessor, bar the songwriting credits.
With 'Green' and its attendant world tour finally thrusting R.E.M. into the mainstream after seven years as the worst-kept secret in the Western hemisphere, it was odds-on that, given the band's predilection for avoiding the obvious, the follow-up would bear little relation to its illustrious predecessor, bar the songwriting credits. And hey, whaddya know, Stipe ... Co. have gone and pitched us a curve ball of an album which had even an ardent REMophile like myself swinging at air for the first fifteen or so listens. For that perversity in the fact of overwhelming expectation alone they deserve to be applauded, but to judge 'Out Of Time' purely on the basis of its at-oddness with the rock mainstream would be to seriously demean what is a thoroughly compelling piece of work.
'Out Of Time' is where R.E.M. strip themselves down and scatter the parts around like confetti, in the process creating fascinating fables of de- and re-construction. Like that seriously under-rated 1985 album, 'Out Of Time' is a predominantly string-driven thing, Peter Buck's guitar adopting a secondary role and sounding al the fresher for it, while Mike Mills' contribution extends to a brace of lead vocals, serving to remind anyone who'd overlooked the fact that his underpinning harmonies have been as integral a part of the overall R.E.M. sound as the lead vocals of Michael Stipe. And as for Stipe himself? Well, I've certainly never heard him singing as loosely before. There seems to be a genuine playfulness in his approach to this album which, on the surface at least, provides the most accessible entry-point to the initially bewildering array of material on offer.
The most leading contenders in the pop song '91 stakes are 'Near Wild Heaven' (sung by Mills and an object lesson in how to arrange vocal harmonies) and the next single, the gap-toothedly giddy 'Shiny Happy People'. Here Stipe is joined by B-52 Kate Pierson for what could well have turned into some kind of New Age Mamas And Papas pisstake had they lost the run of themselves. They don't, and the introduction of the orchestra playing waltz-time in the middle-eight is ridiculously effective.
It's not all sweetness and light here though. 'Low' is a sparse, brooding rumble, 'Belong' a bizarre monologue concerning a mother and child with the faintest hint of defenestration adding a sinister edge, 'Texarcarcana' (again, sung by Mills) sweeps across the sonic spectrum like an orchestrated locust-swarm. Then there's the howling one-take exorcism of 'County Feedback', which sounds like something Neil Young excluded from 'Tonight's The Night' because it was a bit too bleak.
Really, R.E.M. have stretched themselves further on this album than any of us had a right to expect and the end result is that 'Out Of Time' is as diverse, demanding and downright delightful a record as you'll hear this year. A classic.