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“Out of Time” Reissue Reveals a New Dimension of an Old Classic

| Monday, December 5, 2016

Out_of_time_WEBLauren Weldon

In celebration of the album’s recent 25th anniversary, R.E.M’s landmark record “Out of Time” has been reissued and expanded in style, boasting a second disc of 19 newly remixed demos. These extra tracks show the songs slowly taking shape; several drafts feature hummed or even silent sections of where lyrics had not yet been finalized. It’s a raw, bare bones set of artifacts featuring the songs stripped of their bells and whistles. Such recordings invite the listener into the studio with R.E.M. as they forge the album that would consequently thrust them into the international spotlight.

The star of the show at the time of the album’s release, and to this day, is the alt-pop hit “Losing My Religion.” Originally, the track was a guilty pleasure for the band as they were attempting to deviate from songs employing the group’s standard chord progressions. Peter Buck, the man behind the strumming of the mandolin on the track, noted that “Losing My Religion” was “probably the most typical R.E.M.-sounding song on the record. We are trying to get away from those kind of songs, but like I said before, those are some good chords.”

Predictably, the song was eaten up by audiences around the world. Accompanied by a music video directed by Tarsem Singh, which was heavily played on MTV, the album quickly topped the charts in the U.S. and the U.K. and eventually earned the band three Grammys. All of this was done with minimal touring for the album as well; R.E.M. relied on radio show appearances and the odd public function for promotion.

Twenty-five years later, looking back on R.E.M.’s legacy, we are able to obtain a clearer sense of the impact that “Out of Time” had on R.E.M.’s stint as the most popular band in the world. Before “Out of Time”, R.E.M. was left on the outside looking in. Their previous six albums had cultivated a large and devoted following, yet they could still not grasp that elusive superstar quality that separates those who will be immortalized from those who are more easily forgotten.

Some might say the success of “Out of Time” was due largely in part to R.E.M. sacrificing a part of themselves in order to cater toward radio stations. However, the band defended the music from the outset; in a 1991 interview with Rolling Stone, Peter Buck snapped back, “The people that changed their minds because of ‘Losing My Religion’ can just kiss my ass.” Interestingly, the album remains relatively unique in R.E.M.’s discography and has prompted little imitation. It did not, after all, reign in a new age of mandolin-infused rock.

“Out of Time” is indeed less edgy than previous albums such as “Green” or “Life’s Rich Pageant,” owing in part to Scott Litt’s crisp, clean production, but this is what makes it such a turning point in R.E.M.’s career. The band’s brooding indie act was coming to a close. After all, the track “Shiny Happy People” is the antithesis of what every classic grunge fan wants to bob their head to. Some fans resisted the change, but “Out of Time” heralded something even larger that was yet to come. The following year, the masterpiece “Automatic For The People” would be released, leaving no doubt as to whether the band’s name would be noted in the annals of music history.

While R.E.M.’s “Out of Time” is easily glossed over by critics and listeners alike, the album was critical at the time. It warmed up audiences for the groundbreaking work that was on the horizon, while also providing a few gems of its own in tracks such as “Me in Honey” and “Country Feedback.” This reissue is by no means monumental or even necessary, but the additional tracks do provide a nice bit of dressing for an already solid album.

What the reissue does best, though, is shine a light on an album that deserves a little more recognition. The album is timeless and certainly does not sound like it made its debut a quarter of a century ago. “Out of Time” marked the beginning of R.E.M.’s golden era, which would only increase in intensity until the release of the experimental “Monster.” It is easy for one’s eyes to be drawn to the sound of R.E.M. at the height of their career, but we must not forget the cornerstone upon which it was built.

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