R.E.M.: Automatic for the People (25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) (Craft) Review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Automatic for the People (25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)


Dec 04, 2017 R.E.M. Bookmark and Share

It’s hard to imagine this now, but when Automatic for the People came out 25 years ago in 1992, it was hot on the heels of the previous year’s gargantuanly successful Out of Time. “Losing My Religion” was ubiquitous and unavoidable everywhere you went and the anticipation for a new album by the kingpins of the ‘80s college radio/alternative rock scene turned mainstream stars was at a fever pitch. Not only that, but after touring for each of their albums throughout the 1980s, they refused to tour for Out of Time and kept that up for this release as well. In fact, they wouldn’t hit the road again until the tour for 1994’s Monster. Nevertheless, Automatic for the People was another “monster” smash, selling millions on the basis of hits like the also ubiquitous “Everybody Hurts,” “Man on the Moon,” and lead single “Drive.” On the original album, they doubled down on the atmospheric, harmony-laden, Beach Boys-esque experiments of songs like Out of Time‘s “Near Wild Heaven” and instrumental “Endgame,” but combined it with a dark, haunting edge that is perfect for reflective, late night listening. Everyone knows the hits, but the album’s death and nostalgia-obsessed deep cuts like “Try Not to Breathe,” the deceptively-titled “Sweetness Follows,” and especially penultimate track “Nightswimming” (a hit in Australia that should’ve been huge elsewhere as well) are what really make it the classic it is, rightfully considered one of their masterpieces by many fans. It wasn’t just the specter of death (perhaps influenced by the A.I.D.S. epidemic) that was on Michael Stipe’s mind, though, as overtly political material like “Drive” (a song protesting the policies of George H.W. Bush) and “Ignoreland” (ditto) comprise space on the album as well. As such, though, this material doesn’t feel dated, but rather timeless as the political atmosphere is even more charged a quarter of a century later.

The reason for fans to get this new deluxe edition, however, has more to do with the bonus discs. The first is Live at the 40 Watt Club, a much-bootlegged 1992 show from the legendary club in their hometown of Athens, GA that was organized as a Greenpeace benefit. In short, it’s a great live album as fans can hear a much more “rock” version of “Drive” and a totally reworked “Radio Free Europe” (which closes the disc) alongside covers of The Troggs’ “Love is All Around” (sung by golden-throated bassist Mike Mills, who also provides great harmonies on many other R.E.M. songs along with his occasional lead vocal) and Iggy Pop’s “Funtime,” featuring hysterical ad-libs by Stipe on one of the verses. For a band not associated with their sense of humor, that aspect is shown here as completely intact and part of their mass appeal. Elsewhere, the set is dominated by material from Out of Time and the then just released Automatic for the People and a slow-burning, more than 7-minute version of “Everybody Hurts” along with another funny intro to “Losing My Religion” are highlights.

Last and least is disc three, which is comprised of demos for seven of the songs that ended up on the album along with 12 that didn’t and “Photograph,” their collaboration with Natalie Merchant and contribution to the 1993 Born to Choose compilation. Of these, “Photograph” is the clear highlight, though it’s fun to hear how songs like “Howler Monkey” (the original working title of “Ignoreland”) and “Michael’s Organ” (ditto, but for “Everybody Hurts”) developed from their rather skeletal versions. It’s also interesting to note that some of these, like the aforementioned “Drive” and “Wake Her Up” (which later became “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite”), were already close to complete. Nevertheless, this disc will be of primary interest to those who are already big fans.

That doesn’t mean, however, that this lovingly packaged tribute to a great album isn’t worth the fuss. It’s also a reminder of a brief window in time when an uncompromising band from the early ‘80s post-punk underground could develop a huge following album per album and become one of the world’s biggest bands. (www.remhq.com)

Author rating: 9.5/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10


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