Review Summary: This 1992 release may be the greatest of the band’s prestigious career, combining elements of charm and darkness into an ultimately superb record.
R.E.M. is a band that’s had an up and down career to say the least. In the early 1980’s, R.E.M. arrived on the music scene with their mellow and simple indie rock. Records such as “Murmur,” “Reckoning,” and “Lifes Rich Pageant,” achieved underground success, and paved the way for their 90’s mainstream achievements. In the mid to late 90’s however, R.E.M. began to experiment with different sound, developing more of a rock feel in “Monster” and becoming more “poppy” in the process. Much of R.E.M.’s 90’s and 2000’s records received mixed results, and some of which hurt the band’s reputation to an extent. Somewhere in between the underground indie rock and the mainstream friendly rock was the 1992 release “Automatic for the People.”
“Automatic for the People” is considered one of R.E.M.’s greatest achievements, if not the greatest. Following the “poppier” and more upbeat “Out of Time,” “Automatic for the People” is a much darker, 45 minute piece in which includes some of the band’s best singles. This particular record is mellow like most typical R.E.M. albums, and both charms and haunts the listener. Sweetness Follows
plays on the haunting end with lyrics, “Readying to bury your father and your mother, what did you think when you lost another?” The track is driven by dark keyboard effects and dropped tuning acoustic guitars. Following track Monty Got a Raw Deal
is a more upbeat song, but still manages to retain the darkness of the record with an eerie acoustic introduction and again, mysterious lyrics. The lustful Star Me Kitten
however, is a much more hopeful track, in which beautiful harmonies create a floating sensation.
features one of the only appearances of the electric guitar, and really enhances the dramatic effect of the track along with the strings. Singer Michael Stipe is at his best here, saying, “Hey kids, rock and roll. Nobody tells you where to go, baby.” Hit single Everybody Hurts
is undoubtedly a highlight here, even if it comes off a bit cheesy. This anti-suicide tearjerker features some of Stipe’s best vocal work on the record, and is complemented perfectly by keyboards and arppeggiated guitars. Everybody Hurts
however, may not even be the best single from the record. Follow-up single Man on the Moon
is an absolutely wonderful tribute to Stipe’s childhood hero, comedian Andy Kauffman. The chorus harmonies are beautiful and this track even offers a bit of comic relief when Stipe mutters, “Hey Andy, are you goofing on Elvis? Hey baby, are we losing touch?”
The flow of this record cannot be undermined, for it is nearly perfect in every way. The piano-driven closer, Nightswimming
is another standout track, taking full advantage of the string section and bringing the record to a fitting and nearly perfect finish. Even 135-second instrumental New Orleans Instrumental No. 1
provides a stable bridge between the wishful Everybody Hurts
and the haunting Sweetness Follows
. Try Not to Breathe
is just one of many easy-listening classics on the record, with Stipe claiming, “I need something to breathe.”
R.E.M.’s “Automatic for the People” is a near classic in which includes no filler, and eleven great or better tracks. This 1992 release may be the greatest of the band’s prestigious career, combining elements of charm and darkness into an ultimately superb record.
Monty Got a Raw Deal
Man on the Moon