In spite of two exceptional singles, Out of Time isn’t quite the musical monument it aspires to be. Sure, this was the album that rocketed R.E.M to worldwide prestige, selling over 18 million records to date, but it sorely suffers from moments of filler and predictable tendencies. To its credit, Out of Time never meanders into unpleasant listening: it’s thoroughly entertaining at best, and a little stale at worst.
“Losing my Religion” and “Shiny Happy People”, the clear highlights, are absolutely scintillating songs, and have since developed an illustrious reputation across the globe. They are two of the finest anthems of the ‘90s, and whilst other cuts on the record now tend to show their age, these tracks triumph due to the utterly timeless songwriting. “Religion” and “People” don’t waste any time hitting their stride, and this instant accessibility generally rings true for most of the album.
However, other cuts often lack a focal point, such as a memorable chorus, and a genuine sense of progression. At times, it does feel like the writing is running on autopilot. The monotony isn’t disastrous by any means (there are worse things to experience than R.E.M repetition), but it’s a notable blemish nonetheless. Out of Time has left a legacy despite its imperfections: the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ of “Beyond”, as tedious as they are, outline a simple-to-replicate template for modern arena-rock bands to follow.
With hindsight, it feels as though R.E.M were striving for their own Joshua Tree, but unfortunately their ambitions were not to be matched. Moments of the sublime are followed by instances of the ordinary. Out of Time is a good album, but my honest and downright repulsive opinion is that most of us are better suited to the band’s ‘best of’ compilations.
7 out of 10
Out of Time at its best is very good. At its worst it’s still pretty good, but straddles that line between slightly embarrassed head-nodding and contortion levels of cringe. The album has an almost uncannily clean, quaint alternative rock sound. When a harpsichord inevitably made an appearance it took me a while to distinguish it from the guitar. That kind of sound. So long as the band are pointed in a rockier direction, it works a treat. Standout tracks like “Shiny Happy People” and “Near Wild Heaven” are sharp and memorable, with gorgeous harmonies and welcome variety in song structure. The record warrants a listen for the highlights alone.
The problems, such as they are, stem from the country vein of the album. Although R.E.M. generally get away with it, a lot of the songs have that floaty, fluffy, nothing vibe characteristic of Christian rock and similarly depraved genres. “Belong” in particular has that wailing at nothing thing down to a T. It’s a minor gripe, but difficult to unhear. R.E.M. shine when they take alternative, post-punk rock and lace it with a dash of folksiness. That’s their thing. Out of Time just overdoes the latter at times, which keeps it from making a lasting overall impact.
7 out of 10
To describe Out Of Time as ‘patchy’ would maybe appear a little unfair. There are some memorable and now very recognisable tracks, and it’s by no means a dud release from R.E.M., with “Losing my Religion” being the most likely track for many to recognise. The first half of the album is pretty strong in general, with “Shiny Happy People”, “Near Wild Heaven”, and opener “Radio Song” all being easy picks for the favourites list.
However, at times I am left wondering whether I’m just hard to please with this era of rock. Tracks like “Low”, “Half a World Away” and “Country Feedback” are all heavy on the organ, which simply doesn’t agree with me. “Belong” is a stadium rock track that drags through its four-minute play time, and there are others here that simply make no impression on me. Michael Stipe’s vocals are certainly unique, and those tracks that do make the album enjoyable are definitely improved with his distinctive tone. Only in “Low” do they stick out, failing to gel with the atmosphere created by the rest of the band. Kate Pierson’s various vocal contributions are also welcome when they appear. “Endgame” is another track worth mentioning; a largely vocal-less, instrument-rich interlude near the midway point that could easily go unnoticed as it plays into “Shiny Happy People”, but ends up being seamlessly enjoyable.
Nitpicking aside, I have generally enjoyed Out Of Time, and I can certainly appreciate that it’s not a bad entry in the R.E.M. catalogue.
7 out of 10