Saturday, March 12, 2016

"Out of Time," R.E.M. (1991)

A few years back, I put together a list of what I thought were the best 50 albums of all time, and then started writing a short essay on each of them for my blog.  I ran out of steam a couple of different times, after which I'd return after a couple of (or few) months newly determined to make it all the way to #1.

Where I got stuck for good was (I think) #21 or #22, where I intended to plug in an R.E.M. album.  But I kept changing my mind over which one, and I was determined not to do what I did with Talking Heads, for whom I picked their first four albums in a four-way tie.  And then after a while, this particular roadblock sort of convinced me of the futility of the entire exercise.  Why confine myself to 50?  (Although someday soon I do intend to publish the top 20 list, just for the heck of it).

"Out of Time" was one of the four, and since today is the 25th anniversary of its release, is today's selection.  It is indeed a great album, one of the four of theirs that I would put in that category - the other three being "Murmur," "Document," and "Automatic for the People."

The album begins with the words, "The world is collapsing around my ears," which sort of lends it a timeless quality.  The great single "Losing My Religion" is also on the first side, but the song that really hooked me in from the beginning was the third, "Low."  Others can tell me whether this comparison is apt, but it always struck me as very "Lou Reed-esque."  Leading off side two is "Shiny Happy People," which I know a lot of people hate but which I love.  And hearing Kate Pierson's voice on the song along with Stipe and Mills continues to be a delight to this day.

Happy anniversary.

Christgau: A.  "Hiding political tics behind faux-formalist boilerplate, pop aesthetes accused them of imposing Solidarity and Agent Orange on their musical material, but in fact such subjects signaled an other-directedness as healthy as Michael Stipe's newfound elocution. Admittedly, with this one beginning "The world is collapsing around our ears," I wondered briefly whether "Losing My Religion" was about music itself, but when Stipe says they thought about calling it Love Songs, he's not just mumbling "Dixie." Being R.E.M., they mean to capture moods or limn relationships rather than describe feelings or, God knows, incidents, and while some will find the music too pleasing, it matches the words hurt for hurt and surge for surge. The Kate Pierson cameos, the cellos, and Mark Bingham's organic string arrangements are Murmur without walls--beauty worthy of DeBarge, of the sweetest soukous, of a massed choir singing "I Want To Know What Love Is."

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