I made the announcement back in January that I would write throughout the year on many of the great albums that are turning 20 this year.
R.E.M.’s classic album “Out of Time” is actually about 20 + a month now. There was not much to write about in January and February (notorious dumping ground for less than the best music and films). Still, this review is about a month overdue (as I have been crazy busy trying to graduate and find a job).
It was R.E.M.’s 7th album overall and their 2nd for Warner Bros. For many people – including me – “Out of Time” was their first exposure to an R.E.M. album. This was no doubt due in part to the world wide hit single “Losing my Religion.” The song was even used on Beverly Hills 90210 in the famous Brenda and Dylan break up in Dylan’s car episode. The massive exposure annoyed a lot of R.E.M.’s long time Indie fans who didn’t want to share their favorite college rock band with teenie-boppers like me (or the rest of the world). But I knew nothing about that at the time. All I knew was that together with albums like Sinéad O’Connor’s “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got (1990), B52’s – “Cosmic Thing” (1989) and Faith No More’s – “The Real Thing” (1989) this was a different kind of music than the teenie-bopper music I was growing out of like New Kids on the Block and Tiffany. It was also different than the hard rock I was listening to like Guns N Roses.
But perhaps most importantly it was a far, far different kind of “alternative” than the grunge scene that would be synonymous with “alternative” by the end of 1991 and dead in a few years. But this was still before all of that and before Kurt and Courtney asked R.E.M. front man Michael Stipe to be the godfather of their daughter Frances Bean Cobain
One of the things that made the album an “alternative” to the mainstream in 1991 was the way the band blended elements of rock, pop, country and for a brief moment even hip hop to create a sound off of the beaten path. Today that kind thing is the norm. But when this album came it was not common for rock bands to have cameos from rappers like KRS-One on their albums, on the opening track no less.
I really do love the whole album. But three songs have always been the trifecta of R.E.M goodness to me: The dark, brooding “Low” showcasing Stipe’s love it or hate it mumbling singing technique. The epic “Belong” with it’s perfect combination of nonlinear lyrics and a semblance of story. More importantly the song’s bellowing “chorus” of “Ahh, ahhh, ahh” after each time a mother tells her child to belong really taps into a human emotion too deep for words. Finally, “Country Feedback” is one of my favorite songs of all time by any artist or band. Michael’s stream of consciousness lyrics in the middle section have always had the power to tear me open like a scalpel:
We’ve been through fake-a-breakdown
Self help, self pain,
EST, psychics, fuck all
I was central
I had control
I lost my head
I need this
I need this
You can stream the whole album here via GrooveShark.
Here is an amazing 2003 live performance of Country Feedback
Finally, while R.E.M. have put out several albums since Out of Time it is certainly worth mentioning that this year on its 20th anniversary they released “Collapse into Now” one of their best albums in some time; quirky and reminiscent if of Out of Time in many ways. I have been listening to that album on repeat for nearly a month now.
They are old enough to serve in the military. But they are not quite old enough to drink (not legally anyway). Of course that probably wouldn’t stop a lot of them. Get ready to celebrate with some post-teen spirit. That’s right, I’m talking about albums that turn 20 this year.
1991. I was a wee 14 years old (20 years ago today in fact). The Cold War ended. The reign of George Bush Sr. was half over. The Persian Gulf War had just begun. That spring the world watched with shock and horror as Rodney King took 56 baton blows and a few kicks. News outlets around the world played the video tape shot by a bystander of an LAPD drunk driving arrest.
MC Hammer and Vanilla ice still lingered on the album and singles charts with the pop-cross over material most of America celebrated the previous year and derided by the following year. Meanwhile Gangsta rap took over. Ice cube made his debut on the silver screen and continued to make violent and sexist yet intelligent, eye-opening and important music without NWA. Dr. Dre and the boys put together one of the most nihilistic, misogynistic and lyrically empty rap albums ever. But the lyrics were laid over a sonic tapestry of soul samples and production that made the album sound like it was from the past and the future all at once. Ice-T released his last great album before becoming a heavy-metal cop killer, succumbing to the Dre blueprint for all of his subsequent hip hop releases and eventually becoming a self parody. In a time when the West Coast was taking over, Naughty By Nature brought some rough and rugged East Coast heat. However, it was a newcomer raised on the east coast but representing Oakland that made the most important hip hop record that year.
Guns N’ Roses were the biggest rock band in the world; but not for too much longer. Along with bands like skid row, they offered albums that year that provided an updated, darker, harder sound than their glam-rock predecessors a few years earlier. But it was not updated enough. One week after G N’ R released Use Your Illusion I & II a little band from Seattle released an Album called Nevermind that changed everything in rock in many ways – some of them good and some of them bad – for years to come.
It was the year that R.E.M. and Red Hot Chili Peppers went mainstream. Smashing Pumpkins were still underground. U2 had their first (and perhaps best) of several major sound and image makeovers. And in addition to that breakthrough sophomore effort from Nirvana, Temple of the Dog, Pearl Jam and Sound Garden saw to it that every other headline in music publications included the words alternative, grunge or Seattle.
It was the year that brought us Lollapalooza. Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Center were in full force and “Parental Advisory” stickers became formalized and were slapped on more albums than ever before thought imaginable.
It was the year that Tupac Shakur and Kurt Cobain were introduced to the world. Over the next few years they would each become household names while courting controversy and fame. Each artist provided a unique soundtrack for those who were fatherless, or at least felt they were. Before the decade was over, the world would lose both artists to violent deaths, each shrouded in conspiracy theories.
Do you remember in Back to the Future II when Marty tells Doc Brown that they need to go back to November 12, 1955? That was the last and most hectic day of Marty’s stay in 1955 in the first movie. The Doc responds to Marty saying, “It could mean that that point in time inherently contains some sort of cosmic significance. Almost as if it were the temporal junction point for the entire space-time continuum. On the other hand, it could just be an amazing coincidence.”
I truly believe that 1991 was one of the years in music. Like a few pivotal years in the 50′s and 60′s, it contains some sort of cosmic significance, at least for the world of music. Neither the pop charts nor “underground” music have been the same since.
Throughout 2011, I will be taking you back to 1991. I have about 25 albums and at least one movie on the list to blog about throughout the year. I will try my best to post on or near the anniversary of the original release date. Most of these albums were at least pretty good. Some of them were Masterpieces. And I would be less than honest if I didn’t include a couple that in retrospect are quite embarrassing. The majority are rock of one sub-genre or another, or hip hop. A couple are pop albums. There will be at least one R&B and one Country album. Most of them I discovered upon their release or shortly there after. A couple of them it took me a considerable amount of time to catch on to. I will note that as I go along. But all of them came from that important and game changing year. 1991 I solute you.
Happy Birthday to Mary J. Blige. This is the song, the exact performance actually, that made me fall in love with her as a vocalist and performer, nearly a decade ago. She was already a well established artist at that point and has become a superstar since then.
As a Birthday wish I would like to echo Beanie Sigel’s prayer for Mary From his stellar song Lord have Mercy:
“Take a hand of my sister J. Blige
As I listen to her life go down watching her life spin round
On them records every track she singing prayer
Give her “No More Drama” let her “Rainy Days” be clear”
As I approach my the anniversary of my own date of entry, survey the last year, think about my hopes and goals for this new year, and go over my own prayers (many in the form of poetry) I hope Mary and Beanie don’t mind if I say an adaptation of the same prayer for myself.