|R.E.M. - Out of Time|
|Music Disc Reviews DVD-Audio|
|Written by Dan Macintosh|
|Tuesday, 01 March 2005|
Out Of Time represents one of R.E.M.’s greatest musical achievements. You may recall that this recording was made back when vocalist Michael Stipe stopped mumbling and started to really come into his own as a songwriter. This work also nicely mixed together familiar band musical elements with a few welcome new touches. As an artistic statement, this one was not out of time, but rather precisely right on time.
Oddly enough, this work may also include both the best and the worst songs in the Athens, GA band’s repertoire. “Shiny Happy People,” on the negative end of the spectrum, is just too stinking dopey to take, even now. Conversely, “Losing My Religion” is just as powerful today as it was when it first came out. The mental confusion that comes through in Stipe’s spot-on singing of it is further enhanced by the track’s wonderful mandolin-centered musical arrangement. It’s one of those songs that means something different to everyone, yet is still highly meaningful to all.
Some of this work’s musical stretches are both surprising and successful. “Radio Song” features rapper KRS One, of all people, yet he strangely sounds at home in the R.E.M. mix. While there are a lot of sad songs overall, such as the appropriately named “Low,” there are also moments, such as “Near Wild Heaven,” which are simply heavenly. Unlike anything else, “Endgame” comes off like cool soundtrack music with its strings and French horn, whereas “Texarkana” goes for an Americana feel, long before all of that rootsy stuff was so hip.
Stipe enunciates consistently here, writing lyrics that make sense. Nevertheless, he doesn’t seem to have any overt agenda. It’s hard to pick up on political themes -- sexual or otherwise – between the lines of his words. Even though there aren’t many obvious themes, it all holds together well anyhow.
As usual, R.E.M.’s whole is always far greater than its individual parts. Peter Buck must be the world’s most unselfish guitarist – and that’s really saying a lot, since “selfish” is usually a guitarist’s middle name. Buck makes his fills fit the songs, rather than using solos to try and steal the show. Mike Mills sings a few leads here, which reminds us just how essential he is.
There are probably more critically acclaimed R.E.M. CDs than this one: Automatic For the People comes immediately to mind. But there are also few projects during the band’s career that hold together so well -- from beginning to end -- as this one does. R.E.M. may not be the flavor of the month it once was, but if you’re ever wondering what all the fuss was about back in the day, listening to this disc should assuredly help explain that initial buzz.