Tuesday, October 6, 1992

R.E.M. released Automatic for the People

First posted 10/6/2011; updated 10/10/2019.

Automatic for the People

R.E.M.


Released: October 6, 1992


Charted: date


Peak: 2 US, 14 UK, 4 CN, 2 AU


Sales (in millions): 4.0 US, 2.27 UK, 18.0 world (includes US and UK)


Genre: alternative rock


Quotable: “A classic of modern rock…it would be asking a lot to expect any future album to match this.” – CdUniverse.com


Tracks: (Click for codes to singles charts.)

  1. Drive [4:30] (10/3/92, #28 US, #11 UK, #2 AR, #1 MR)
  2. Try Not to Breathe [3:49]
  3. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite [4:06] (2/20/93, #17 UK, #28 AR, #24 MR)
  4. Everybody Hurts [5:17] (4/17/93, #29 US, #7 UK, #21 MR)
  5. New Orleans Instrumental No. 1 [2:12]
  6. Sweetness Follows [4:19]
  7. Monty Got a Raw Deal [3:16]
  8. Ignoreland [4:24] (11/21/92, #4 AR, #5 MR)
  9. Star Me Kitten [3:15]
  10. Man on the Moon [5:12] (11/28/92, #30 US, #18 UK, #46 AC, #4 AR, #2 MR)
  11. Nightswimming [4:16] (7/24/93, #27 UK)
  12. Find the River [3:49] (12/11/93, #54 UK)

All songs written by Berry/ Buck/ Mills/ Stipe.


Review:

The post-Nevermind era found “overzealous major labels desperately seeking the next Nirvana.” PF The “amped-up, aggressive nature of grunge threatened to make R.E.M.’s increasingly refined, mandolin-plucked pop seem, well, out of time.” PF “The knee-jerk response would’ve been to let Peter Buck pounce on the distortion pedal” PF but instead of trying “to compete in a world where teen angst was all the rage, R.E.M. set about crafting a rueful response to the onset of middle age – and remind us that life goes on even after your slam-dancing days are over.” PF

Automatic for the People “captures the group at a crossroads, as they moved from cult heroes to elder statesmen.” AMG “R.E.M.’s career up to that point had represented the platonic ideal of a left-of-center rock band infiltrating the mainstream—a step-by-step process that saw the band turn bolder and its audience get bigger with each album, culminating in the multi-platinum, MTV-saturating success of Out of Time.” PFAutomatic for the People arrived a mere 18 months after Out of Time – a swift turnaround time for a sequel to a blockbuster album that still seemed ubiquitous well into 1992.” PF

R.E.M. responded by “turning away from the sweet pop of Out of TimeAMG to create a “haunting, melancholy masterpiece.” AMG This was “an austere but nakedly emotional album” PF of “poetically introspective” BN “folk songs” AMG about “the anxiety of aging, the inevitability of death, the loss of innocence, and the impossibility of holding on to the past.” PF “R.E.M. have never been as emotionally direct…nor have they ever created music quite as rich and timeless.” AMG

“The music has a grand, epic sweep provided by layers of lush strings, interweaving acoustic instruments and shimmering keyboards.” AMG The latter was provided by Mike Mills while Bill Berry was “stepping up on bass more often than before” IB and Buck was “still fiddling with his mandolin from the Out of Time sessions.” IB “But then the early 1990s were to R.E.M. what the late ‘60s were to the Beatles – a period where the band took a break from touring to immerse itself in the possibilities of the studio, breaking down traditional instrumental roles in the process.” PK

The Album Title and Cover Art

“The phrase ‘automatic for the people’ is the satisfaction-guaranteed slogan” PF from Weaver D’s Delicious Fine Foods, “a popular diner in the band’s native Athens. It also speaks to the pressures of a band that had just sold 10 million albums and needed to serve up more hits.” PF

“That striking cover photo is actually a close-up of a star ornament” PF which is part of the sign for the Sinbad Motel in Miami, near Criteria Studios where most of the album was recorded. “Rendered in brutalist grey, it appears as fierce and fearsome as a medieval cudgel. The image bluntly reinforces the notion that while Automatic for the People isn’t a loud album, it’s certainly a heavy one.” PF

“Drive”

“The album’s haunting acoustic opener” PF is marked by “some nice mandolin” AD and an “ominous death march intro.” IB “The rock-into-oblivion” AZ tune is “among the quartet’s strongest hits.” AZ It “doesn’t just establish Automatic for the People’s patient pace and nocturnal atmosphere; …it sets its emotional tenor as well.” PF

“The video…gamely adopts Seattle-scene aesthetics—a never-ending mosh pit rendered in flickering black-and-white…But when Stipe crowd-surfs atop a sea of hands belonging to fans several years his junior, he’s not trying to ride a trend, but starkly illustrate just far from the alt-rock zeitgeist R.E.M. had drifted in the Year of Grunge. When he sings, ‘Hey kids, where are you?/Nobody tells you what to do,’ it’s with a combination of awe and envy.” PF It “isn’t so much a rallying cry as an expression of anxiety.” AZ

“Try Not to Breathe”

“The gentle sea-shanty sway of ‘Try Not to Breathe’ frames an ailing elderly person’s desperate pleas for a quick death.” PF This “is one of the songs…where everything is right, you can’t imagine [it] with a different section, tempo, different instrumentation or approach. Not only that…the lyric…place[s] all sorts of images in your mind, being slightly…vague in it’s poetry. And the harmonies are beautiful! Harmonies aren’t something that can be explained, they just go straight for your heart and soul.” AD

“The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite”

“Dr. Seuss turns up in a spin on ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight.’” PF While “Sidewinder” “borrows a vocal hook from ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’…It owes little else” AD to it. While some consider it “a perfectly fine REM pop song,” AD others consider it “a tune that threatens to join ‘Stand’ and ‘Shiny Happy People’ in the R.E.M. silly-song sweepstakes.” PF However, it “manages to stay on just the right side of the charming/cloying divide.” PF

“Everybody Hurts”

“Even the album’s karaoke-ready sing-alongs cast dark shadows…Everybody Hurts’ is either the most depressing song ever about trying to stay optimistic or the most sanguine song about coping with depression.” PF In his Amazon review, Steve Knopper has a more upbeat take, suggesting that this “sympathetic ballad…must have prevented countless suicide attempts.” AZ

Musically, this is a song largely absent of “traditional percussion,” PF which is especially interesting when one considers that it was “crafted by drummer Bill Berry.” PF In addition, “the string section is tastefully done and suitably soaring.” AD

“New Orleans Instrumental No. 1”

This is “beautifully short and concise, and wonderfully evocative.” AD

“Sweetness Follows”

“The whole album feels as though it’s in recovery from, or preparing for, some great trauma.” PF “‘Sweetness Follows’ renders its funereal scene of family dysfunction with church-organ sounds clashing against dissonant drones.” PF Despite dealing with the “fear of parental and fraternal death,” IB this “sounds lovely.” AD

“Monty Got a Raw Deal”

This is an “elegy for 1950s screen heartthrob Montgomery Clift cross-wired with allusions to Let’s Make a Deal host Monty Hall.” PF It “contains some great little guitar parts and develops very well over the course of just over three minutes… it’s just a good, solid song.” AD

“Ignoreland”

Automatic for the People contains only one explicitly political song.” PF The “Crazy Horse-cranked ‘Ignoreland’” PF “addresses the alienation and vitriol political campaigning breeds.” IB It is the “most seething, spiteful track R.E.M. ever produced.” PF

It is also “the only guitar rock song on the entire album, but still doesn’t sound out of place, which is a strange thing. The production over the course of this album is very rich, very detailed and all the songs arrangements and instrumentation are suitable, and ‘correct.’” AD

“Star Me Kitten”

This has a “beautiful organ/keyboard part, wonderful minimal musical backing with just the right amount of guitar to make your spine chill. Stipe sounds in good voice here.” AD

“Man on the Moon”

“The luminous country-rock reverie ‘Man on the Moon’” PF is an “empathetic Andy Kaufman tribute” BL complete “with Michael Stipe affecting an Elvis Presley imitation.” AZ The song “centers on a subtly subversive chorus line – ‘If you believe they put a man on the moon’ – that effectively presents conspiracy theory as fact and truth as a matter of opinion, an unwittingly ominous harbinger of the info wars that would eventually be waged in U.S. politics.” PF It “is a perfect REM pop song, and very happy sounding too. It’s an uplifting song and a highlight,” AD marked by a “wistful guitar chord.” IB The song

“Nightswimming”

This is “essentially a demo embellished by John Paul Jones’ wondrous string arrangements” PF – yes, this is the famed bassist and keyboardist from Led Zeppelin. Otherwise, it only features Mike Mills – usually a bassist – on piano and Stipe on vocals. It possesses an “aching grace.” BL The “repeating piano parts are very pretty.” AD Among the song’s “stream-of-consciousness memories…there is mourning for the loss of the exuberance and fearlessness of adolescence.” IB

“Find the River”

”The promise to symbolically keep trying to ‘Find the River’ with its hint of acceptance and growth of spirit optimistically concludes an album of intense opinion, expression, and ultimately, lamentation.” IB It is “a song to float off to, a song to dream to, a song to fall asleep to…It’s also a song to awake to – open your sleep filled eyes, look up at the window and see a day breaking in orange and yellow, wiping away the darkness.” AD

Final Thoughts

Automatic for the People is “a classic of modern rock…it shows the band on a creative roll with no shortage of original ideas.” CD It “doesn’t just prove that R.E.M. have stood the test of time, it proves to be R.E.M.’s finest moment” IB and “the band’s most emotional, most human album.” BL “While the record is not an easy listen, it is the most rewarding record in their oeuvre.” AMG “It would be asking a lot to expect any future album to match this.” CD “It’s an album that—in surveying a fraught political landscape, the fragility of our mental health, and the fate of our planet – still speaks emphatically to our current condition.”


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