Song of the Day #682: ‘Country Feedback’ – R.E.M.

Three years after the success of Green, R.E.M. became superstars with the release of 1991’s Out of Time. Propelled by the runaway success of unlikely single ‘Losing My Religion’ (how many #1 songs feature a lead mandolin?) the album went quadruple platinum in the U.S.

[Note: Sorry, mom, but ‘Losing My Religion’ isn’t my featured song from this album… I’ll post it someday soon just for you.]

Out of Time would prove to be R.E.M.’s pinnacle commercially, if not creatively. The band’s trajectory had been on the rise since their debut and this album helped them punch through the stratosphere. It also marked an interesting turning point for R.E.M.’s sound.

Yet despite its success, I can’t help but find Out of Time one of the band’s weaker efforts, competing with Murmur as their most overrated.

It might seem sacrilegious to say that about an album that contains such classic songs as ‘Losing My Religion,’ ‘Half a World Away’ and today’s SOTD. But Out of Time is also responsible for the awkward rap experiment ‘Radio Song,’ ‘Shiny Happy People’ and instrumental filler ‘Endgame.’ ‘Low’ and ‘Belong’ are fine but repetitive. ‘Texarkana’ and ‘Me In Honey’ are good songs but nothing I find myself returning to very often.

‘Near Wild Heaven,’ featuring a rare Mike Mills lead vocal, is my favorite song on the album apart from the first three I mentioned, and that’s a somewhat disposable Beach Boys homage.

Out of Time is most notable for expanding R.E.M.’s sound… not just the inclusion of the mandolin (something they’d tried already on Green) but through more expansive production, guest vocalists and an overall brighter, cleaner sound than we were used to hearing from the band.

Most of these middle R.E.M. albums pinpoint me to a time and place and Out of Time is no exception. In this case it’s my freshman year at the University of Florida. I bought the album, as I did so many others, at an independent record shop within walking distance from my dorm. I took that walk countless times that year and spent pretty much all of my disposable income on music.

My favorite song on this album is probably ‘Half a World Away,’ one of the band’s finest, most transcendent moments on record. But I’m featuring ‘Country Feedback,’ a close second, today because it’s a great example of the angst-y dark side of R.E.M. and a wonderful example of how music conjured up by Buck, Mills and Berry inspires complementary lyrics and vocals by Stipe.

This flower is scorched
This film is on
On a maddening loop.
These clothes,
These clothes don’t fit us right
I’m to blame
It’s all the same
It’s all the same

You come to me with a bone in your hand
You come to me with your hair curled tight
You come to me with positions
You come to me with excuses
Ducked out in a row
You wear me out
You wear me out

We’ve been through fake-a-breakdown
Self hurt
Plastics, collections
Self help, self pain,
EST, psychics, fuck all
I was central
I had control
I lost my head
I need this
I need this
A paper weight, junk garage
Winter rain, a honey pot
Crazy, all the lovers have been tagged.
A hotline, a wanted ad
It’s crazy what you could’ve had
It’s crazy what you could’ve had
It’s crazy what you could’ve had
I need this
I need this

6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #682: ‘Country Feedback’ – R.E.M.

  1. Amy says:

    While I agree with your overall opinion that this is not one of their very best albums, I find that ironic when I’m simultaneously shaking my head in disbelief that you chose not to feature three of the songs (“Low,” “Near Wild Heaven,” and “Half a World Away”) I love best. So… I guess it’s all relative. Any album that contains several songs you appreciate as much as I do those, plus today’s haunting SOTD, plus the undisputed (and really odd!) hit “Losing My Religion” is a pretty spectacular near miss.

    I remember thinking it was so strange that “Losing My Religion” was a hit; it seemed so unlikely a song to find space on the radio. Meanwhile, while looking for a version of the song to share here, I stumbled upon this:

    Have I mentioned recently how much I adore Russell Brand? 🙂

    And here is a live version of the song

    I must say I’m with Peg on this one. Today’s SOTD should be “Losing My Religion” – 😉

  2. Clay says:

    Of course Peg never confirmed that ‘Losing My Religion’ is the song she’s talking about… she could be crossing her fingers for ‘Ignoreland’ all this time. 🙂

  3. Amy says:

    On a side note, that video makes me want to move to Canada. Just saying 🙂

  4. Dana says:

    While I agree that some songs from this album, like “Shiny Happy People,” overstayed their welcome through excessive radio play, I would not call this a lesser album from REM. I can see the argument that the rap on “Radio Song” feels awkward, but I still like the song. I also like the instrumental “Endgame.” And when you watch the clip Amy posted of “Losing my Religion” performed live, how can you really question the song being a hit? It is an unabashed pop song skewed just enough with the mandolin and Stipe’s lyrics and delivery to make it infinitely fresh and listenable all these years later.

    I find your SOTD pick from this album to be rather odd. I’m not sure I can say it’s one of my favorites. The guitar sometimes grates on me a bit and it’s a bit too moody and repetitive. It’s not necessarily a song I skip over when it comes on, but it feels a bit like a placeholder between the more enjoyable “Texarcana” and “Me for Honey.”

    For me, though, the standout on this album, and the one I would have picked for the SOTD (that is unless I chose to break my mother’s heart as you did:)) is “Half a World Away.” That song possesses everything I love about REM — the pop sensibility tempered with lush instrumentation and Stipe’s great lyrical interpretation.

    Oh, and thank you Amy for sharing that Brand clip–he really is hilarious!

  5. pegclifton says:

    Thank you so much for playing my song Clay!!!!! Just kidding. It is an interesting choice, but I’m still bouncing up and down listening to the live performance Amy posted. Thanks for that and for that hysterical Brand clip! And thank you Clay for exposing me to all that they have done besides “Losing My Religion”!

  6. Flor says:

    Strange how perceptions can be so different. I think “Shiny Happy People” and “Radio Song are wonderful, even if they’re a bit silly. Then there’s that bassline in Texarkana, the pop glory of “Near Wild Heaven” and of course the songs you mentioned. Opinions are opions of course, but the comment I was shaking my head at the most was when you called “Low” ‘repetetive’. The way the music rises and falls, the way Michael’s voice builds, the lyrics… everything about it really. One of their finest moments.

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