wave off that honorific. Surely, however, R.E.M. is America's most resourceful rock & roll band.
R.E.M.'s greatest resource is its four members -- not their musicianship, in technical terms, so much as the ideas and personalities that they express through their music -- and they've remained unerringly true to their instincts. Such fidelity is difficult to maintain amid critical acclaim and climbing sales figures, which you'd expect might lead them self-consciously to break with or replicate a successful formula. But R.E.M., unpredictable and self-invented, has always operated more on intuition than formulas. This band does not carry a map, and not knowing what lies around the next curve is part of the fascination and fun of following R.E.M.
Musically, Out of Time is R.E.M.'s most baroque album; it breaks out of the guitar-bass-drums-voice format to make room for everything from harpsichord and strings, on "Half a World Away," to funky, Jimmy Smith-style organ and a cameo rap by KRS-One of Boogie Down Productions, on "Radio Song." The songs are enriched, not cluttered, by these embellishments. Kate Pierson of the B-52's sings on three numbers, shining on the roistering folk-country duet "Me in Honey," and Peter Holsapple, the former dB's leader who accompanied the band on its last tour, lends a hand here and there on guitar and bass.
All of this indicates that R.E.M. is no longer a closed circle, and the outreach allows the group to broaden its scope without diluting its essential character. As on Document and Green, the band and Scott Litt share the production credit on Out of Time, and despite the added flourishes the album is certainly not overproduced. There's no superficial glazing, and the raw, unvarnished content of the songs cuts through. The strings convey emotion, whether they are as sepulchral as doomsday ("Low") or as lithe as springtime ("Near Wild Heaven"). Even when instruments are layered upon one another, as in the subtle swell of strings, guitars and mandolins on the existentially despondent "Losing My Religion," they make a point. That point is "Life gets bigger," and R.E.M. deals with life's billowing complexities throughout Out of Time.
The band members, especially bassist Mike Mills, move outside of their prescribed roles to experiment a little. Mills, for instance, pumps up the jam on "Radio Song," ripping into its prick