Review By DAN MACINTOSH
R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People (25th Anniversary Edition, Concord) is 45-songs long. So, unless you’re retired, bedridden or just have endless hours for binge listening time, there’s likely more music included on this collection than any average R.E.M. fan will ever need. The original LP was divided between the “Drive side” and the “Ride side” (this was 1992, after all), and the album’s original twelve songs are worth revisiting, alone – and you won’t have to go into early retirement to do so.
Losing My Religion
This album deserves repeated visits because it may also be R.E.M.’s most consistent album. Remember, too, this is the studio project that followed up Out of Time, the commercial breakthrough record that gave the world “Losing My Religion” and garnered the band three Grammy Awards, including one for Best Alternative Music Album. By this time, the band had graduated from college rock favorite, to radio staple, and could have easily just slapped together a collection of radio-friendly songs. But it didn’t.
As the band was now a commercial force to be reckoned with, many of these songs did thankfully end up on the radio, and deservedly so. The album includes the group’s most empathetic song, “Everybody Hurts,” and one of its prettiest, “Night Swimming.” It opens with “Drive,” one of its darkest. It also features “Man in the Moon,” a truly fantastic soundtrack song. The latter only gets better with age. It reveals how Michael Stipe evolved from a shy, mumble-mouth, to one smart lyricist.
This new reissue gives listeners a fantastic 13-song concert recorded at the group’s hometown 40 Watt Club in 1992. Along with many Automatic for the People album tracks, there are live readings of “Losing My Religion,” “Begin the Begin” and “Fall on Me,” to name a few welcome oldies. It’s two covers are enjoyable, and for different reasons. “Love Is All Around,” the Mary Tyler Moore theme song, reveals the act’s adeptness at pure pop, while a cover of Iggy Pop’s “Funtime” proves these jangle rock icons could also rock hard whenever called upon to do so.
Of the album’s demos, most are studio first takes on what would later become familiar songs. One titled “Mike’s Pop Song,” which features harmonizer-supreme Mike Mills singing lead, really should have been escalated to an A level album cut. He had the prettiest voice in the band, and the song is Dwight Twilley Band-worthy power pop. A demo of “Drive” suggests this song may have been fully formed on arrival. “Wake Her Up” is a lovely early go at “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” that features Michael Stipe not quite finished with its lyric.
The fact that R.E.M. could muster up an album this good, this late in its career, reveals how good it truly was. Albums this good are by no means ever automatic. No, a lot of accumulated wisdom and skill went into its creation.