OUT OF TIME
R.E.M. (Warner Bros. 26527)
Once a band makes it to the big time, it usually loses its sense of adventure. Not R.E.M., however; if anything, the group seems more willing than ever to take chances. With "Out of Time," the band tinkers with its instrumentation and toys with a variety of pop styles. Yet no matter how far afield these go, R.E.M. never loses its identity or sense of direction, whether it's dabbling in old-time country with "Half a World Away" or flirting with funk in "Radio Song." Which is why, from the mournful urgency of "Losing My Religion" to the twangy melodicism of "Near Wild Heaven," the album sounds as strong as anything in the band's catalog.
I WASN'T BORN YESTERDAY
Safire (Mercury 846 651)
There is no doubt that Safire is the reigning queen of Latin hip-hop. Nor is there any wonder why, since her voice is an ideal blend of power and pathos; few singers are as adept at caressing a melody while simultaneously boosting the beat. "I Wasn't Born Yesterday" is the Puerto Rican diva's current shot ++ at mainstream pop, and it's a good one -- "Made Up My Mind" is tuneful and feisty in the style of early Madonna, while "I Never Heard" is breathless and beat-intensive. And though Safire's balladry is a bit overstated and melodramatic, it seems unlikely that will stand in the way of her success.