Out of Time (2016 Remaster)

Out of Time (2016 Remaster)

R.E.M. really had no idea that 1991’s Out of Time—or its unlikely breakthrough single “Losing My Religion”—would change their lives like it did. “Unless you're Max Martin or you're making a Kylie Minogue record, you can't know what it's going to do,” bassist Mike Mills tells Apple Music, 30 years later. “‘Losing My Religion’ is a five-minute song with no discernible chorus and the mandolin is the lead instrument. There is absolutely no way to ever predict that that would be a hit. You can’t know—so you just throw it out there.” For much of the ’80s, the Athens, Georgia, art-rock outfit had enjoyed incremental success on their own terms, evolving from indie heroes to major-label signees with 1988’s Green, an album whose grueling, year-long tour had left them so exhausted they insisted on a long break from the road—a move that many considered career suicide. It’s a decision that would have a major impact on every note of Out of Time. “I think we felt a freedom to experiment and to push ourselves in different directions, to not have to worry about how this or that song would perform onstage,” Michael Stipe tells Apple Music. “We were taking all kinds of risks.” You can hear and feel that freedom start to finish, from the skittering funk of “Radio Song” (featuring a cameo from rapper KRS-One of Boogie Down Productions) to the childish delirium of “Shiny Happy People” (which included vocals from The B-52’s Kate Pierson, a fellow Athenian) to the cloud-parting harmonies of “Belong” and charred Americana of “Country Feedback.” At the center was “Losing My Religion,” a song that found R.E.M. embracing strings and guitarist Peter Buck writing on mandolin, which he was still teaching himself how to play at the time. It quickly became their highest-charting single to date, a global smash that won two Grammys and helped Out of Time sell over 18 million copies. Released just months before Nirvana’s Nevermind, it was the first marker in an alt-rock revolution about to unfold—one R.E.M. had inspired if not engineered. “Record companies want to cover their ass,” Mills says. “They do everything by formula, because that's what's been proven to work. It was great to confound expectations, to be subversive. You could show people that there wasn’t just one way to be successful.” Here, Mills and Stipe take us inside some of the album’s key tracks. Radio Song Michael Stipe: “BDP were this incredible blast of fresh air out of New York, and the kind of overt and then the more subtle messages that he was bringing out as an artist were really influential. I just wanted to work with the guy. So we came up with ‘Radio Song’ and it seemed like a perfect fit.” Losing My Religion MS: “It was the first time that I ever lip-synced for a video. That was something that to me was just fake, fake, fake, fake, fake, and stupid. And I refused to do it. And ‘Losing My Religion’—I changed tack. I thought, ‘Let's give this a try. Let's see if I can infuse this video with as much meaning and feeling as Sinéad O'Connor did when she performed ‘Nothing Compares 2 U.’ And that was the video that really turned me, realizing that you can do something that's incredibly fake, but if we all know that it's fake, it can actually have a resonance of a realness.” Mike Mills: “We knew it was a big hit. Peter and I did a promo tour in Europe and we went to a hotel disco in Ein Gedi, in Israel, and the DJ played it, and the crowd rushed the dance floor, filled it immediately. I said, ‘People can dance to this song?’ And the DJ said, ‘Oh yeah. Everybody wants to hear “oh, life”’—because those are the only words they were sure to recognize. So people were always asking him for ‘oh, life.’” Near Wild Heaven MM: “One of the advantages that R.E.M. always had was that we had three extremely talented singers. Bill [Berry]'s vocal on ‘Near Wild Heaven’ is as important, I think, as anything else in the song. But it did take a lot of work, because I think it was one that Michael kind of got a certain distance into and then hit a wall. I sort of leapt in and we finished it together. One of the things that always gratifies me the most about hearing some certain R.E.M. songs is the interplay between the three of us singing. Everybody had an amazing sense of melody. The three voices are all distinct and different, and yet they blend very well together. That song is certainly a great example of that.” Belong MS: “That song is pretty overtly political songs, referencing the times that we're moving through. I remember writing it in a hotel room in Munich, and it happened very quickly. It’s based on my memory of hearing the news of Tiananmen Square and writing a story of a woman, half a world way from China. A mother stepping to a window, looking out over the vista of her city and wondering what the world is going to be like for her baby.” Shiny Happy People MS: “I feel like in terms of direct poppy pop songs, [1988’s] ‘Stand’ is much more direct in its messaging. But ‘Shiny Happy People’ is in the same arena—like a fruity pop song for kids. The band had presented me with this really dumb piece of music, and I was like, ‘I’m going to one-up you on this. You're giving me that to write to, check this out.’ And we never looked back.” Country Feedback MS: “I remember it came out all at once. I sang it—I believe I sang it one time, I might’ve sung it twice—and then I stormed out. It was such an emotional experience. I mean, it would be a love song at the very end of a long love affair that has just collapsed into nothing—just gone, there's nothing left. At that point I was trying to challenge myself, trying to push myself to write love songs. 'Country Feedback' was really one of the darkest things I think I'd ever sung.”

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