First off, if you own the original, you don’t need this. The first disc is just the original album, no bonus tracks. The second disc is the original album in 5.1 Surround Sound (whatever that means; alls I know is my CD player don’t play it), a twenty-minute promotional video about the making of the album, and assorted other irrelevant dribs and drabs (discography, photo gallery).
So it’s hardly an essential re-release on the order of, say, Matador’s ridiculously generous Slanted and Enchanted double from 2002, which showed how to do the reissue thing right (unlike last year’s way less interesting Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain re-ish). Still, that promo video, dubbed Time Piece, contains some interesting factual nuggets. Peter Buck likes to cook and he’s a Public Enemy fan. Mike Mills can’t dance, but he can play a mean game of ping-pong, as evidenced by a tremendous mini-montage, set to the lovely strains of "Near Wild Heaven."
There’s also a revealing scene in which Michael Stipe describes a bad teenage breakup. Infuriated by how the tragic love songs on the radio "manipulated" his emotions when he was at his most vulnerable, Stipe says he swore never to write a love song. Then, with an unapologetic half-shrug, he adds, "Well, I did."
Did he ever. Rock critics made a big deal over "At My Most Beautiful," from 1998’s Up, because it was the first time Stipe had ever written directly about love. But R.E.M. had been writing love songs for years — you just had to listen hard to get ‘em — and on this, their prettiest album, they unleashed some classics. In fact, Stipe and Company tinkered with the idea of naming this album Love Songs before finally settling on Out of Time. (Other possible album titles: Imitation Crab Meat, The Return of Mumbles, The Future Is Unwritten, and Catbutt.)
The stick-it-in-the-canon masterpiece is, of course, "Losing My Religion," a song I’ve heard hundreds of times and yet have never tired of. But great tunes abound, all grounded by Mills’s inventive bass lines, Berry’s steady rhythms and some of Buck’s most melodic, simple riffs. Subtle string arrangements and subtler horn filigrees are the frosting on the cake; in fact, their unforced beauty is at times downright distracting. Which is why you have to listen hard.