Whatever happened to R.E.M. anyway? That was the first question that came to mind after listening to this album the first time. A deep dive on Wikipedia revealed the somewhat dispiriting news that they had broken up in 2011- having been around and kicking it since they emerged from Athens, Georgia in 1980.
I do remember them breaking up- vaguely, in passing a few years ago, but then I sort of forgot about it- going back into Spotify and digging up Out of Time made me remember just how much they had been on the radio and just been part of the music of my childhood in many ways. I had a similar moment when I rediscovered the Stone Temple Pilots in college- the memories, the music- bands that float into your life and then back out of your life make you forget just how much you listened to them in the first place. R.E.M was one of those bands. (They're also one of those bands you wish would make a comeback too... in the dawn of the Age of Trump, they would surely have something to say.)
Out of Time might seem like a random choice, but it's not. I've got to give a shout-out to the always excellent 99% Invisible for this one, because this album is the most politically significant album in the history of the United States. Go listen to the episode to find out why.
Listening to the album- and I got all annoyed at stumbling across the 25th Anniversary Deluxe edition with extra tracks and out takes I didn't really care about, so I dug up the actual album instead- I was struck at how melancholy a lot of R.E.M's music actually is. With few exceptions ('Radio', 'Half A World Away') everything seems to be stuck in something of a minor key. (The track, 'Low' for instance, sounds like, well, Michael Stipe had a very bad day, put it that way- because he's "low, low, low...)
The two tracks I did recognize were, of course, 'Losing My Religion' and 'Shiny Happy People.' Even those don't escape the sort of melancholy air that hangs above the album. I did some digging on the interwebs and came up with this for 'Losing My Religion' which sort of changes the meaning of the song for me. If it is more about obsession and less about actual religion, that's... interesting. I had always assumed that the song was literal in it's title- as the process of growing up and growing older usually involves at least one 'crisis of faith.'
The purported meaning of 'Shiny Happy People' especially given the album is only two years removed from Tiananmen Square completely changes the tone of that song as well. (FWIW: I have no idea how good a source Songfacts.com actually us, but hey, I'll take it. Until I find something better.)
Overall: Seems like every television show from your childhood is either being rebooted or revived on whatever platform you can think of, so isn't it about time for R.E.M. to get back together and make another album? Catch the national mood. Dish up some irony and melancholy for the people. Where have you gone Michael Stipe? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. *** out of ****. (I can appreciate the political significance of it's packaging, but as an album it's sort of 'meh.' Don't get me wrong- it's good, but it's not like 'holy shit I need to buy this right now' kind of good.)