My first exposure to R.E.M. came as a thirteen year old when, as I walked through the streets of Vancouver city centre, a bright orange window display caught my attention. The display was for the album Green that preceded Out Of Time and I found the fact the album cover was mainly orange yet titled Green intriguing, and as there was no Google or internet it would be a few months later before I heard my first R.E.M. song, as the thundering ‘Orange Crush’ crashed through the airwaves and indeed, a couple of years later before I discovered R.E.M. actually stood for something.
Back in Bonnie Scotland a few years later a song called ‘Losing My Religion’ caught my ear and I discovered it was R.E.M., as I watched Michael Stipe dance badly near a window as the video played (briefly as they did back then) on Top Of The Pops. Somehow ‘Losing My Religion’ failed to climb the charts and it would be the release of their seventh album, Out Of Time, that propelled R.E.M. to the top of both the UK and US charts, and brought them global recognition in doing so. Being a teenager with limited funds I did what all good big brothers do and bought the album (on cassette) for my little sister as her 12th birthday present. She would thank me later I told myself as I justified the purchase for my only sister who didn’t even own a stereo. 25 years on, much of Out Of Time continues to resonate and sounds every bit as good as it did back in 1991.
The insanely catchy album opener ‘Radio Song’ somehow seems even more relevant today “I can’t find nothing on the radio… The world is collapsing around our ears… It’s that same sing song on the radio/makes me sad.” Despite failing to break the top ten, ‘Losing My Religion’ was undoubtedly the UK commercial break-through song for R.E.M. and paved the way for future successes, both in the singles and album charts. ‘Low’ in contrast is indeed the low-point on the album with the gloomy, dark number failing to ignite and in hindsight lyrically serves as indicator of Stipe’s complex and compelling persona. Thankfully ‘Near Wild Heaven’ follows and lifts the mood, like a ray of sunshine penetrating through the dark clouds with the poppy track sung by bassist Mike Mills (no relation). In the days of two sided cassettes and LPs, ‘Endgame’ was a gentle closer to side one, with the instrumental arrangement including the calming strings soothing the soul and ensuring many drifted off into dreamtime before reaching side two.
If ‘Near Wild Heaven’ evoked a feeling of sunshine, ‘Shiny Happy People’ radiated warmth before you even hear it. With Stipe’s vocal complemented by that of Kate Pierson of The B-52’s and an infectious violin arrangement, the single was the first by the band to enter the UK Top Ten, and sounds every bit as good now as it did when it crashed into the charts. 25 years on, I look at the track list and can’t quite remember how ‘Belong’, ‘Texakarna’ or ‘Country Feedback’ sound.
Listening to ‘Belong’ now it floods back to me, the track with a soaring chorus containing no lyrics and a voice over that was inaudible through my stereo. Hearing ‘Texakarna’ it reminds me of many of the tracks on the Best Of album that I would acquire in the years that followed, while ‘Country Feedback’ pulls the listener into a deep dark pit of despair. Thankfully, side two of the album also features the dreamy ‘Half A World Away’, showcasing Stipe’s rousing vocal before the terrific ‘Me In Honey’ closes out the album. Thinking back all those years I seem to recall it took me a number of listens before I actually discovered this gem as I had a tendency to flip the tape back over and rewind it back to the start of side one after ‘Half A World Away’, a real shame as ‘Me In Honey’, with Kate Pierson once again joining Stipe on vocals, is a delight and one of the album highpoints.
For some R.E.M. fans, Out Of Time marked the beginning of the end as the band moved from well and truly away from college underground to mainstream, whilst for others it was the start of a love affair that was cemented with the colossal and brilliant follow-up, Automatic For The People. Die-hard fans will appreciate the 2 CD deluxe version featuring early demos of the album tracks whilst the 3 CD version includes an excellent unreleased live show from 1991. The live disc is a rare gem as R.E.M. did not tour the album and the show at Mountain Stage showcases the band at the very top of their game.
Out Of Time (25th Anniversary Edition) is released on 18th November via Concord Music Group Ltd.