Out of Time
[DVD-Audio / CD Edition]
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2005, Volume 12, #3
Written by John Metzger
During the 2 ˝ years that preceded the release of Out of Time, R.E.M. spent an exhausting 10 months on the road, took a lengthy sabbatical, and continued to develop the concepts and ideas that it had initiated on Green, its major label debut. For once, both the critics and the public at large agreed — R.E.M. was onto something, and just as Green had propelled the group beyond the confines of its cult-ish following, Out of Time transformed the ensemble into a superstar act. To feed its growing penchant for lush arrangements, however, the band employed, for the first time, an extensive supporting cast that included the B-52s’ Kate Pierson, rapper KRS-One, The dBs’ Peter Holsapple, a 9-piece string section, a saxophonist, and a flugelhorn player. Even so, Out of Time wasn’t truly a bold new beginning for R.E.M.; instead musically speaking, it highlighted a broadening of the collective’s palette — the Doors-ian poetry of Belong and the Neil Young-inspired haze of Country Feedback, for example — as well as a refinement of its previous endeavors. The adornment of pedal steel that shaded World Leader Pretend was reprised on Country Feedback and Texarkana, and the latter song was itself a throwback to the group’s second outing Reckoning. Elsewhere, the ornamental mandolin accompaniments from You Are the Everything and Hairshirt formed the basis of Losing My Religion; and the bubbly goo of Stand blossomed into the sugary sweetness of Shiny Happy People. Of course, just as Green provided clues as to where R.E.M. would soon head, Out of Time laid a similar series of stepping stones to the future. The moody atmospherics of Low, for example, paved the way for much of Automatic for the People, and the baroque-flavored, Beach Boys-inspired swirl of Near Wild Heaven and Endgame would be explored further on Up.
Lyrically, however, Out of Time was a bit of a departure in that after the opening one-two punch of Radio Song and Losing My Religion — which respectively attacked the blatant manipulation of the masses by popular culture and addressed Michael Stipe’s loss of faith in his ability to make a difference via his chosen art form — R.E.M. shed its politically-slanted inclinations in favor of ruminations on affairs of the heart. "The world is collapsing around our ears/I turned up the radio/But I can’t hear it" Stipe sang as he, Mike Mills, Peter Buck, and Bill Berry joined the mainstream in an attempt to subvert it, opting instead to deliver their addresses on the state of the world through a myriad of video clips, interviews, and stage banter. The increasingly personal lyrics — most of which were penned from a subjective, first-person perspective — and the clarity of Stipe’s vocals spawned a plethora of rumors, but the switch had more to do with his newfound confidence than it did with a desire to divulge some deep, dark secret. More importantly, it opened a new avenue of honest, emotional directness for him to pursue, and as he began fusing personal issues with socio-political commentary, his songs not only made room systemically for multiple interpretations, but they also resonated with certain truths about the nature of life. In other words, Out of Time, much like Green, was another transitional effort on which R.E.M. pushed to define itself within a new, studio-oriented framework. Although the band was nearly swallowed by its success, it wisely opted not to tour in support of the outing, thereby allowing its full-fledged maturation to come to fruition on its subsequent masterpiece Automatic for the People.
The recent reissue of Out of Time features a run-of-the-mill documentary about the making of the album along with the controversial, but strangely compelling, music video for Losing My Religion. As for the DVD-Audio rendition of the effort, it unfortunately doesn’t benefit nearly as much from the enhanced sonic features of its new, surround sound mix as much as some of the band’s other endeavors have. Although the abundance of instruments are spread across the entire aural spectrum — a baritone saxophone is placed in one corner, a jangly guitar accompaniment rattles around another, and the string section peeks quietly around the corners — the embellishments feel superficial and cosmetic rather than like organically-derived progressions.
Of Further Interest...
Out of Time is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box