Though their previous album, 1988’s Green, can be counted as a commercial success, R.E.M. was still largely dismissed as a college rock band more known by the 120 Minutes set than the mainstream. That would all change with 1991’s Out of Time, and its hit single, “Losing My Religion.”
More than a career-making breakthrough, however, Out of Time helped to define a transitional phase in rock music, leading alternative music to the top of the charts while paving the way for the grunge revolution with its less contemplative lyrics and more severe sound. Eventually, groups like Alice in Chains, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam started to surpass groups like R.E.M. (at least for the moment), allowing Out of Time to take on another meaning, as the possible last gasp of the underground rock era.
On the 25th anniversary of its release today, Out of Time is still an immensely listenable affair and its importance should be celebrated. And so, with that in mind, we decided to rank the 11 songs on this immortal alt-rock classic.
“Belong” is a character study of a woman brought to the brink of a nervous breakdown by an unnamed news event who clutches her child close in an effort to steel herself and regain her composure. Although the song’s melodic wailing chorus from Michael Stipe and Mike Mills is haunting, the song feels oddly disconnected from the rest of the album.
Throughout the 1990s, countless mixtapes wrapped up with this gentle track as warmly as a parting farewell handshake to a friend. Here, Stipe belts out nonsense sing-song words, allowing the track’s lush instrumentation to take center stage. On the cassette version of Out of Time, “Endgame” was the final song on the so-called “Time Side” (with the other being the “Memory Side”). This is brilliant placement, as the tune’s reflective nature offers brief solace from the heavy emotions that dominate the rest of the album.
Given Michael Stipe’s dynamic persona, it’s easy to forget that R.E.M. contained another vocalist. This album afforded Mike Mills the opportunity to really step into the spotlight, with this track being his finest moment. As rustic as the environs from which it took its name, the song — whose melody and lyrics were also created by Mills — spins a yarn about a redemption-seeking man desperate for another shot. “Catch me if I fall,” wails Mills throughout the song, and you can and will be waiting to do just that.