Funny how opinions change over time. I’ve written about R.E.M.’s Out of Time a few times before but never in a very positive light. In posts eight and nine years ago I described it as one of the band’s weakest efforts.
Yet here I am in 2019, naming it as my #1 album of 1991. And it wasn’t even a tough decision.
R.E.M.’s 1991 album Out of Time is a truly bizarre smash hit. It’s the band’s best-selling record and the one that transformed them from a critically admired alternative rock band into a global pop rock superpower, but half of its tracks are the sort of thing I can’t imagine ever playing on the radio.
That goes for powerful, mournful tracks like ‘Country Feedback’ and ‘Low,’ the instrumental ‘Endgame’ and the largely spoken word ‘Belong.’
R.E.M.’s Out of Time was released in 1991, and marked the band’s giant leap into the mainstream. First single ‘Losing My Religion’ became an unlikely smash, perhaps the first song featuring lead mandolin to reach Billboard’s top five. Guitarist Peter Buck was learning to play the mandolin for the first time when he stumbled upon the riff that would become ‘Losing My Religion.’
Out of Time is an odd mix of some of the best music the band ever recorded (‘Country Feedback,’ ‘Losing My Religion,’ today’s SOTD) and some of the worst (‘Radio Song,’ ‘Shiny Happy People‘).
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.
This song is almost a parody of happy songs. And again, it’s a song that has been all but disowned by its writers. Michael Stipe reportedly hates ‘Shiny Happy People’ and kept it off the band’s greatest hits collection despite it charting relatively high.
I find it harmless enough. I like the little waltz-y string intro, though the chorus gets annoying pretty fast. I do like how Stipe’s voice sounds accompanied by B-52’s singer Kate Pierson’s. She was used to even better effect on Out of Time‘s final track, ‘Me in Honey.’