Review of R.E.M.’s best-selling classic album “Automatic For The People”
By Carter Bagley
Enjoying life as rock n roll superstars R.E.M. expanded their career even further with the outrageously successful “Automatic For The People”. Often considered one of if not the best album in their discography and it’s officially gone 4x platinum by the RIAA standards. Although it didn’t reach number 1 on the charts (it did reach #2 however) like it’s predecessor “Out of Time” did or it’s successor “Monster” it’s still sold more overall and has had a more lasting affect. Containing several songs you’ve probably heard before like “Drive”, “Everybody Hurts”, “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight”, and “Man On The Moon” it definitely has it’s share of hits. The album opens up with the lead single “Drive” and instantly feels fresh, original and good as hell. It’s a very slow track but has a hard hitting anger to it. It’s not as flashy and poppy as many of their other songs but it’s calm and calculated and methodical. It features a noticeable alternative rock sound to it mixed with a slightly southern tie to the way it’s performed instrumentally. The second song “Try Not To Breathe” is an extremely underrated song in their discography and Michael Stipe’s vocals don’t explode like in other songs but the lyrics and chorus are memorable and anyone who knows the band well would recognize this song as a great one. “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” has gotten some slack over the years with some saying it’s not a very good song including the band themselves. I don’t understand this as it’s energetic and light unlike a lot of the album and it’s one of my favorites on the whole record. Stipe also has a fantastic vocal delivery on the song and you can’t help but turn it up loud and sing along to it. The most famous track from the album however is the hit “Everybody Hurts” which I think everyone has heard in some way or another. It’s melancholy and the lyrics are much more basic than the rest of R.E.M.’s biggest songs in my opinion, it’s still a great song though and if it was a different artist I would be praising it I just know R.E.M. are capable of more but I can’t deny the marketability of this song. After track 4 the album goes through a series of non-singles as the whole record is pretty much bookended with singles with the exception of “Try Not To Breathe”. Track 5 is the first up and it’s titled “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1” and you can guess that it’s just an instrumental track. There’s not much to say about it besides that it sounds nice and sad but the piano on it was a nice addition. “Sweetness Follows” is a deep cut that only real R.E.M. remember and I will say it’s a fantastic song that get’s tragically overlooked far too often. It’s a soft, well written and beautifully performed song that everyone should check out. “Monty Got a Raw Deal” and “Ignoreland” are the next two songs and the former is a great song and continues the softer, depressing theme of the album. Bill Berry’s drums are very noticeable and carry a great rhythm through the entire song and the lyrics are raw. “Ignoreland” is more upbeat and the instrumentation sounds like an 80’s pop song. Michael Stipe sings loud and confident lyrics and it’s a nice enough song overall but doesn’t compare to what came before it. Track 9 “Star Me Kitten” might be the most depressing song on the album and Stipe’s vocals are deep and quiet and the band gives a constant “ahh” backup vocal. Peter Buck’s guitar is simple and the percussion is mostly just cymbals and you’re supposed to focus on the mood more and it doesn’t entirely work for me but I still enjoy it as a nice little interlude into the last three songs. My personal favorite song on the album is “Man On The Moon” and I think it’s among the band’s greatest overall. The lyrics are weird and speak of the late comedian or “song and dance man” Andy Kaufman. Despite being very odd lyrically they’re still very heartfelt and emotional and it explodes into a perfect chorus that will be stuck in your heard for weeks. It’s truly a highlight on the album and shows how talented R.E.M. can be and how they’re so unconventional yet can appeal to all types. If you’ve never heard “Man On The Moon” you need to check it out as soon as you can. “Nightswimming” is another highlight and it’s probably the most beautiful sounding song the band ever made. The piano by Mike Mills is beautiful and Stipe’s vocals and lyrics are poetic and beautiful and moving. This song just keeps growing on you the more you listen to it and it stands out as nearly perfect and gorgeous. The album finishes it’s perfect three song streak with the album closer “Find The River” which sounds different than the rest of the album and it almost resembles John Denver in tone and feel but it’s much better than the vast majority of his catalog. The lyrics are beautiful and the melodica adds a nice instrumental touch to it. The chorus is lovely and one of the album’s greatest with yet another great vocal performance and the backing vocals and piano add to a fantastic album closer to a fantastic album. “Automatic For The People” is one of the band’s greatest albums they ever recorded and it’s more heartfelt than most of their other albums but it’s not quite my favorite. Despite that I can’t deny that it’s a beautiful, slow-paced, and at times rather moving piece of music that will only grow more perfect with time. It’s a timeless record that I always find myself returning to and if you’ve just heard the singles from it or maybe none of the songs at all then you’re missing out on fantastic music.
Highlights: Drive, Try Not To Breathe, The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite, Sweetness Follows, Man On The Moon, Nightswimming, Find The River
Lowlights Lesser Highlights: New Orleans Instrumental No. 1, Star Me Kitten