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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.
Co-songwriter Michael Stipe insists that "Losing My Religion" isn't about religion. The title is allegedly drawn from a common Southern expression that means to be at your wit's ends. It's used, he says, when "something has pushed you so far that you would lose your faith over it. Something has pushed you to the nth degree."
The title, in other words, reflects the fact that R.E.M. is a Southern band, originating in Athens, Georgia, in 1980. As a Southern rock band, it's joins an impressive list of rock and roll groups that came out of the South, including—but certainly not limited to—the Allman Brothers, the Black Crowes, the Charlie Daniels Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Marshall Tucker Band, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, and ZZ Top.
But while R.E.M. was formed in Georgia, only singer Michael Stipe was born there, and he actually spent most of his youth traveling from state to state with his military family. He went to high school in Illinois, and he only returned to Georgia in 1978 to attend the University of Georgia.
All of the other band members were born outside the South. Peter Buck was born in Berkeley, California; his family moved to Georgia in time for him to attend high school there, and he later enrolled in Emory University and the University of Georgia. Mike Mills was also born in California, but he moved to Macon, Georgia, as a child. Bill Berry was born in Duluth, Minnesota; he moved to Macon when he was fourteen. Berry met and became friends with Mills in Macon, and the two enrolled in the University of Georgia after finishing high school.