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#32 R.E.M. – Automatic For the People

R.E.M. – Automatic For the People

At a time when everyone else was wearing flannel, R.E.M. was naked and nightswimming. It was an album that upon release, received more promotion from the lack of it, or at least the official kind and more from the various rumors that were swirling about concerning the health of the band, specifically Michael Stipe for which some individuals claimed looked “Thin”. In 1992, AIDS was still a killer and considering that much of the album deals with either death, or a certain recollection of one’s life, the content plus physique brought up this entire storyline. But instead of squashing rumors, it seemed the Stipe thing to do was just remain silent and let the music and rumors speak for themselves.

I had been living in college for about a year, enjoying many of the record stores that the north side of Chicago had offered (Tower Records, Second Hand Tunes, Dr. Wax, Reckless to name a few). It about this time that I had started on my R.E.M. obsession, and this would include countless treks out to these record stores looking for anything and everything R.E.M.

I taped the first single ‘Drive’ off the radio, Q101 I believe, because of course it was the new rock alternative, and yet, ‘Drive’ would not necessarily stand for what was popular at the time. I went to Tower Records the day the album came out. As Tower was known for in the day, they would come out with some original types of promotion for the top albums that hit their stores and this was no exception. There was a full table set up with “Automatic For the People” albums stacked on top of it including a floor display.

This is a reflective album, looking back and remembering family, friends and icons (Andy Kaufman and Montgomery Clift being the two obvious). It is their most serious and depressing album to date, stripping any parts of the Shiny Happy persons on Out of Time and replacing that with a hefty amount of morbidity.

It’s an album that they strip down even further. There are a couple songs that lend themselves to plugging in instruments but as a whole this album follows a path that began during Green by making music that was meant to be played on your front porch, and not in front of 20,000 fans. However, even with the morbid state of lyrics there is a warmth to this record. The opening chords, in “Drive” give it a very open feel to it, and the small additions string sections to the album, aided by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.

My favorite track however, without question is “Sweetness Follows” which adds more than a couple of acoustic guitars. I think that I was always impressed with the guitar work on this track because for one, the style is something that they bring to the table much more in the following albums.

For many diehard fans, their favorite track is “Nightswimming” a piano ballad with Stipe reflecting on years past. “Every streetlight reveals a picture and a verse”. He is able to capture this visual moment perfectly while even if someone might say that they have not been skinny dipping that an object will remind them of a more innocent period.

Most critics would argue that this is their best album and if I was introducing someone into the band I might suggest this as a starter, depending on who they are. From a singles standpoint it has 3 recognizable songs and a host of album tracks that make this a solid release.

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