It’s A Free World, Baby

November 24, 2007

I don’t know why “It’s A Free World, Baby” is not on Out Of Time. It just doesn’t make sense. The song is distinct, fully formed, and superior to all but maybe four of the tracks that actually appear on the record, but something compelled R.E.M. to cast it aside. I suppose that it could be an issue of thematic consistency — though the arrangement most certainly fits the chamber pop aesthetic of Out Of Time, its oblique, infantilized lyrics stray far from the album’s theme of love and romance. Still, it’s very hard to fathom that they would be so willing to resign such a beautifully composed piece of music to obscurity. The string arrangement matches the tunefulness of “Shiny Happy People,” but the structure of the piece is odd and quirky, skipping between moments of bubblegum pop and mysterious passages that emphasize a playful tension in the rhythm section. Mike Mills dominates the track — his fluid bass lines carry the piece in every section, and his call and response in the chorus reinforces that hook, and plays up the song’s aloof yet goofy quality.


33 Responses to “It’s A Free World, Baby”

  1. Aerothorn Says:

    The song’s a strange one – I can’t find any problems with it, and it’s very interesting, but it lacks any emotional resonance for me – I find myself spacing out while listening to it.

  2. narcizo Says:

    Peter Buck wrote inside the booklet of “In Time” that ha can’t actually understand why they left this song and “Fretless” out of Out Of Time. I agree with him 100% on the second count, yet I can’t say the same about this one. Perhaps it could be filed under “Theme from two steps onward”.
    It has a great verse though:
    “…sleep sweet dreams, wake up in a new today tomorrow”.

  3. ScottMalobisky Says:

    … I don’t see that , Man. A while back someone was touting the merits of this song and I was thinking the same thing. To me this is a neat little aside-a bit of wayward invigoration to go with my tea and a slice of trepidation — I think this would not fit on Out Of Time at all………

  4. Jerad Says:

    I think the key is just what you said – the lyrics don’t fit the theme set in the rest of the songs on the album. As strangely appealing as it might be, I’ve always just thought that this is a bit too weird and really belonged as a b-side. I would put forward a much stronger argument for “Fretless” to have been on Out of Time.

  5. ScottMalobisky Says:

    to me Out Of Time has a –dare I say–a “high art” quality to it. this song , though interesting in it’s own way would detract from that .

  6. Heyberto Says:

    Where can you find these? Where they released somewhere else?

  7. maclure Says:

    This was on a Friends soundtrack, I believe. It is a good tune but I never thought it was really appropriate for OOT. Agree, Fretless would’ve could’ve should’ve been good if it was added.

  8. 2d Says:

    this song is like the precursor of “the sidewinder sleeps tonite” for me. same kind of playful attitude, rich instrumentation, childish michael vocals, twisted lyrics… it’s a really good song, very quirky, but indeed, it’s difficult to imagine it on “out of time”, i don’t know why… the theme for one thing… however, if “radio song” has a place on that album, maybe, with the right intro… as the first track? *dumbfounded*

  9. 2d Says:

    i think to me, this song seems like it’s just a snippet of a much longer song, like it doesn’t stand on its own completely. that’s why it’s so difficult to place it on an album…

  10. ADB Says:

    Gotta agree. Fretless should absolutely be on Out Of Time, this works really well as a ‘hidden gem’ b-side. Another entry for the ‘Misheard lyrics which I kinda prefer’ section: I always heard ‘My teeth ate my head’ not ‘My teeth ache, my head’.

  11. ScottMalobisky Says:

    heyberto , these are both on the second “bonus” disc of the In Time compilation double CD thing

  12. Adam Says:

    I think this song was also on the Coneheads soundtrack. Not sure why I remember that. My wife had a copy of the Friends sound track (I know…) and that is where I got it.

    To me this song has always seemed like one of those songs at the end of a cycle – where a band has pushed a certain style as far as they can. I love the song but it does seem almost too perfect if you were trying to define R.E.M. in the early 90’s. I’ve always felt the same way about the U2 song “All I Want is You”. It’s like they know the style so well they can just phone it in and it still is awesome.

    The good thing about songs like this (besides the songs) is that they spawn albums like Achtung Baby and Monster.

  13. Gah, I think “All I Want Is You” is easily one of the best songs in the U2 catalog! It’s probably my favorite non-Achtung Baby song.

  14. Scott Says:

    “All I Want Is You” is the only good song on “Rattle and Hum,” much as I loved that album when it came out.

    That R.E.M. exiled “It’s a Free World, Baby” to two woeful soundtracks (having given it a terrible title) says a lot about the song’s worth. Everything it takes “Baby” five minutes to accomplish is achieved during the bridge of “Near Wild Heaven.” With that song and “Shiny Happy People,” “Out of Time” has enough whimsy to spare.

    Count me among those who prefer “My teeth ate my head.” And count me among those who wish “Fretless” were on “Out of Time.”

  15. Rob Says:

    I love this song, certainly the strongest B-side I’ve heard from the group (to Man On The Moon if I remember correctly) and some of my favourite backing vocals in an R.E.M. song. Not sure where it would have fitted in Out Of Time but it deserves to be heard by a much larger selection of people than it probably reached.

  16. Dark Bob Says:

    A decent song. Think it works just fine as a bonus track.

  17. Figgy Says:

    I like the chorus of this song but dislike the verse. I think it would have spoiled the overall effect of Out Of Time if it had been put on that album. As Bisky put it, OOT has a stylish “high art” quality.

  18. Kirsten Says:

    What is wrong with you people??? Overdo your Thanksgiving celebrations or something?? This is one of the best songs in their entire catalogue! It could go on for another 20 minutes and I’d still love it. (I often listen to it twice in a row).
    Dump Shiny Happy People for it, that was much more out of place. It’s also a lot better than Fretless, though I agree that Fretless would also be good on OOT.

    The music, the lyrics and the way it is sung – just perfect! Oh it’s brilliant! How can y’all bannish this song into b’side obscurity? It deserves so much more. I’m getting upset, I’ve gotta go….

  19. Paul Alferink Says:

    Yeah, I love this song. It just doesn’t seem to fit in real well. I kind of always thought that Out of Time lacked the sort of cohesive whole that the other albums have. Perhaps if it had been in there since day one I’d feel different. Fretless works better, as sort of a relationship at or near a breaking point (See Me in Honey, Losing my Religion, Half a world Away, Me In Honey.)

    Perhaps Stipe summed up this song best, an why it was left off . . .
    (And the songs best lyric):
    Me, I’m tired of this candy
    My teeth ache my head

    It seems a bit too quirky, perhaps, and happy. Yes, in retrospect, after hearing “Shiny Happy People” too much, it’s annoying, and maybe this song would work better in OOT. But how many people thought that the first 15 times they heard it, when it charted well? I grew to not like it very much. It didn’t start out that way.

  20. lenny Says:

    I’m going to sound like an echo to quite a few folks — I would have liked “Fretless” on Out of Time better than Free World Baby. This one just never did anything for me. On the other hand, Fretless is haunting and beautiful. I agree with Matthew on one thing though — U2 did not “phone in” All I Want Is You. It’s probably my favorite U2 song, too.

  21. Adam Says:

    OK, very poor choice of words. Sorry about that.

    What I was trying to say with the U2 song is that the elements that make it up are so much a part of U2 that no one else could have done it. By the time they recorded it they knew those elements better than anyone. The guitar tones, strings, themes and vocals – they had mastered all those pieces and could channel them into a song so powerfully only because they had come full circle with that style of expressing themselves.

    I think it is the same thing with this song. It’s a Free World Baby could have only been done by R.E.M. All the elements (bg vocals, bass, guitar style, lyrics) are just perfect examples of what an R.E.M. song is. On paper it is a perfect R.E.M. song – but as perfect as it is the song still would have been weird on Out of Time.

    I think bands can only create songs like this at the end of a cycle where they have mastered the “language” of that period. It does not make it easy (read: phone it in) – it only speaks to their mastery of their own sound.

  22. gluefoot Says:

    i’m glad this track isn’t on OOT and, like others here, i feel it’s a shame that ‘fretless wasn’t on it’ (maybe it was deemed too similar in feel to ‘country feedback’)..
    ‘it’s a free world baby’ just lacks substance as aerothorn suggested in the first reply.. i do like the flurry leading up to the chorus (pre- “i don’t need it….) and the vocal interplay is nice but it’s a good castaway track and nothing more.. and really the lyrics aren’t exactly that inspiring, come on..!.. πŸ™‚

  23. adam Says:

    yeah, this always seemed very B-side to me. good, fun b-side that sounds too similar to others, and has silly title, chorus.

  24. Kirsten Says:

    C’mon! Somebody support me!! There must be someone who likes this song besides me! Adam, you said it yourself “All the elements (bg vocals, bass, guitar style, lyrics) are just perfect examples of what an R.E.M. song is. On paper it is a perfect R.E.M. song”
    If it’s such a perfect REM song, then why don’t you like it? I think it’s heaps better than most of OOT and would definately fit in better than SHP.

    Walking away in disgust yet again…..

  25. Adam Says:

    Kristen, I am 100% with you. I love this song. It’s not my favorite R.E.M. song but I do love it and anyone who likes R.E.M. should like this song. πŸ™‚

  26. Kirsten Says:

    Thanks, Adam. I shall pour you a nice cool lemonade to enjoy….

    Sleep, sweet dreams.

  27. 2d Says:

    *throws a long, yearning look at adam’s lemonade glass while he sadly rubs his scorched lips with his index finger* 😦

  28. Kirsten Says:

    OK 2d, since you did say something nice about IAFWB, I’ll make you a nice cool freshly squeezed lemonade too.

    And don’t be sad – sweetness follows.

  29. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I missed this as I was away from computers for Thanksgiving holiday. This is one of my very favorite REM tracks and I am with you all the way Kristen! Leaving this off of Out Of Time is sheer lunacy in my opinion. Fretless too for that matter although I prefer IAFWB to Fretless. If the band is set on the numner of tracks on the current release of OOT I would lose Endgame and Shiny Happy People in favor of Free World Baby and Fretless. However, what is wrong with a 13 track CD? Here is my suggestion (given before) for a 13 track version of OOT:

    1. Radio Song
    2. Losing My Religion
    3. Low
    4. Near Wild Heaven
    5. Endgame
    6. Shiny Happy People
    7. Belong
    8. It’s A Free World Baby
    9. Half A World Away
    10. Fretless
    11. Texarkana
    12. Country Feedback
    13. Me In Honey

    Free World would follow Belong well as they both have a strong bass melody and are thematically dark with a ray of hope. Fretless would follow Half A World Away well too. Let Stipe’s last note strecth out into 2 or 3 seconds of silence and then the piano intro of Fretless starts. Furthermore, Fretless fits in VERY well with the pastoral, rural, anxious feel of the last 3 songs of OOT: Texarkana, Country Feedback, and Me In Honey. I think the band should recut the CD right now!

  30. Kirsten Says:

    Well said BWD! Your version of OOT would sit really well and the placement of the extra 2 tracks is perfect.

    No more lemonade for you! Champagne all round!!

  31. 2d Says:

    yay lemonade! *glances toward the others with a very smug face* *face of terror* *breaks into a run towards the swings, chased by a pack of rabid r.e.m. fans*

  32. […] 27, 2008 Though I will always remain baffled by the band’s decision to leave “It’s A Free World, Baby” in non-album limbo, it’s not all that hard to understand why “Fretless” was […]

  33. Jacob Says:

    Although this is definitely a great song that deserves to be prominently displayed on an album, and it’s definitely similar to the other songs on Out of Time, it just doesn’t feel like it belongs. It sort of seems like it’s stuck somewhere between the unique sounds of Green, Out of Time, and Automatic, to the point where it wouldn’t really fit on any of those albums.

    I kind of wish they would have put it on the album regardless, though, because I really like it and I wasn’t exposed to it until I read this very recently.

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