Out of Time was R.E.M.’s first album in more than two years when it was released in 1991. The band was anxious to explore new territory, and its members began by experimenting with different instruments. On some tracks, drummer Bill Berry played bass guitar; on others, bassist Mike Mills played the keyboards. On “Losing My Religion,” Peter Buck played the mandolin, which he had only recently decided to take up. In fact, the basic melody for “Losing My Religion” came to him while trying to master the instrument. The mandolin’s opening riff and the upper end it provides throughout the song remain, perhaps, the song’s most distinctive musical feature, and it essentially came to Buck in a practice session that he had just happened to be recording.
Buck’s mandolin represented a departure from the heavy guitar sound ubiquitous on R.E.M.’s earlier recordings, and on the whole, most critics considered the album a departure from earlier R.E.M. productions. Yet the differences can be exaggerated. For example, “Losing My Religion” shares a certain vocal and melodic style with earlier songs like “The One I Love.”
One difference between the 1991 song and R.E.M.’s earliest recordings, however, does stand out: Stipe’s lyrics are far more intelligible. Reviewers uniformly criticized Stipe’s mumbling on early records. His path to intelligibility began with his mid-1980s’ decision to construct more meaningful lyrics, including lyrics addressing contemporary social and political issues.