“Out Of Time” (1991) was to be R.E.M.’s second release for Warner, and it was also the record that led the band to levels of popularity that surpassed all their expectations. Of course, that also means that (as any band with a serious cult following that makes it to the big time) they were faced with the odious “what-have-you-done-to-us-your-true-fans”. It didn’t certainly help that the disc included “Shiny Happy People”, a song considered one of the stupidest ever by a major band, and that the song was a transatlantic hit.
Leaving aside that composition (and how sickly catchy it is, I must add) the album is characterized by a tremendous world-weariness in terms of lyrics and motifs. Two songs use the expression “the world is collapsing”, and the adjective “hollow” is also featured in different compositions, and repeated as part of choruses. Besides, the one instrumental cut of the album goes by the name of “Endgame”.
Another common lyrical maneuver here is the inclusion of lists, you can see it clearly in the songs “Texarkana” and “Country Feedback”. The first increases the amounts that are mentioned gradually, and according to the poignancy of what is being described culminating in “40, 000 reasons for living” and “40, 000 tears in your eyes”. The second is nothing but a concatenation of images and objects that symbolize the hollowness mentioned elsewhere.
And I don’t need to tell you that this album includes the smash hit “Losing My Religion”. It was to split the band’s career in two, and become their signature tune. While “Shiny Happy People” is also one of the songs most people start humming when the band is mentioned, “Losing My Religion” is actually a composition Stipe and Co. are proud of – “Shiny Happy People” was left off “In Time” (a retrospective issued in 2003), even when it was the one and only song of their career to hit the top five in both sides of the Atlantic.
Coming back to the world-weariness that was mentioned above, note the sarcastic undertone that “Shiny Happy People” has, and how a “love” song like “Losing My Religion” focuses on the fact that something is being lost, not that something might be being gained.
It was with this album that mid-paced and orchestrated cuts started gaining true prevalence, and the coexistence of different styles (as seen on “Green“) was to become eventually lost.
This time around, the formula works – a quick glance at how the actual singles performed in the charts just proves it. The next record (“Automatic For The People”, 1992) also yielded its fair share of hits, but some complained it was far too removed from the band’s roots. The 90s were to be times of great commercial successes and critical backlashes for the band. “Out Of Time” was not a start on the bad foot, it was simply a start on the right foot in a ballpark that not every fan of the band cherished or even cared about.