As 25 reviewers have here shown, this album raises as disparate reactions as the diversity of its styles. (Rolling Stone's Reader's Poll 1989: Best album: #1; Worst album: #5; Worst Album Cover: #3) All presented as love songs--a first for the band, Stipe claimed. But which ones still sound vibrant, in context with REM's efforts before and since? Well, the instrumentation here leans towards mandolin, strings, background vocals, acoustic shadings--so it follows Green's foray into more popular musical tones. And, in its reliance upon the particular in the lyrics and its muted undertones, so it prepares for AFTP's meditation. And it's a warm, inviting production. So, the project bodes well. But the songs themselves do not always survive repeated listening. Ironically, "Radio Song" and its ilk--"Losing," and "Shiny"--have been dulled by overexposure on the very same radio which embraced this album more than any of REM's earlier product. 1991's attempt at innovation--rap meets alternative--is 1999's cliche, although REM can't fairly be blamed anymore than Run-DMC and Aerosmith for this! But the song's a rant when it should've been a roll, preachy instead of convincing. "Losing"'s St. Sebastian-styled video was banned in Ireland; too bad the song wasn't worldwide. And of "Shiny," at least Kate Pierson's vocal support has been recorded for posterity. Say something nice or don't say it at all. "Low," "Endgame," "Belong" are all passable vocal exercises that anticipate experiments as recent as on the Up lp; the lyrics stand up beter than the sketchy musical backings, which recall some of the sparer, half-finished sounds on earlier albums. "Near" presages those so-so Brian Wilson tributes that, again, became so popular in the 90's among "alternative" musicians from Elvis Costello to the Elephant 6 collective. "Half" is marginally redeemed by its harpischord; "Texarkana" fairly damned by its Mike Mills lead vocal. (One critic called it a Moody Blues song.) So we stumble through the abc's to the two finest worksongs: "Country Feedback" with its two (maybe three; cf. Hamlet III ii 117) meanings matched by a powerful dissonant rumbling wave of despair .A breakup never sounded so good. "Me" ends the album triumphantly: a specific situation told by Stipe, wonderful "life-affirming" backup by Pierson, the boys in the band making hey while the sun shines warmly upon all. Yet, to whom much has been given, much will be expected--and the parable of the talents applies to this seventh album, at a time of their reckoning with finally making it to the top of the pops.
'Out of Time,' but certainly not out of talent, R.E.M. reinvented themselves in sound and outlook like never before. The double images of a watershed on the album's cover can't fail to make its point: They will never be the same. To accentuate their makeover, the back photo shows the group in black, mourning their old image. (It is an update to the Beatles at their own funeral on the cover of 'Sgt. Pepper'.) Mike Mills has an all-knowing smirk, and Michael Stipe's arms are raised to embrace the … more
Though R.E.M. titled a later albumMonster, this 1991 smash was the true monster, with the little Athens, Georgia, quartet graduating once and for all from its jangling independent-rock roots. The confusion Michael Stipe communicates in the catchy "Losing My Religion" and the dark-and-dreamy "Low" hit the mainstream-rock audience when it was most primed for uneasy angst. (Nirvana'sNevermindwas released a few months later.) There are also odd but successful experiments, like ceding the opening "Radio Song" to rapperKRS-One(with Stipe playing the moaning straight man) and going peppy for the surprisingly nonsarcastic "Shiny Happy People."--Steve Knopper