Automatic For The People is the tenth album by pop group R.E.M.. It was released on October 6, 1992, little more than a year after their huge groundbreaking album, Out of Time. This album took a change in direction; it is a very mellow album, much more so than Out of Time. The songs are much more introspective than before, and quite mellow. Nevertheless, it is the sound of a band truly on the top of their game. Perhaps as a result, this album was a huge hit as well, spawning six singles and selling roughly nine million copies to date. The album is forty eight minutes and fifty four seconds in length over twelve tracks. It was released by Warner Bros and produced by Scott Litt and R.E.M.. Every song on the album was written by R.E.M. as well.
If you can give R.E.M. credit for one thing, you have to give them credit for taking risks even when they are on top of the world. Rather than just repeating the success of Out of Time, the band took a noticeably new direction here, recording a much more mellow set of songs for the most part. Instead of the earlier album's focus on a more upbeat sound and reflections on religion and pop culture, this album is much more autumnal, talking aboutmortality, celebrity, beauty, memory, and the significance we give them. It was a major change in direction, and R.E.M. would go on to take an even riskier step on the follow up to this album, the extremely hard rocking Monster.
The album, in a lot of ways, harkens back to the group's early days in Athens, Georgia. It is reminiscent in a lot of ways of their earlier stuff to me, especially Murmur and Lifes Rich Pageant. The album's name came from a sign advertising a restaurant in the Athens area, and is pretty much a perfect title for this album, considering that it is quite personal sounding.
The album opens with the first single, Drive (4:31), released in September 1992 roughly a month before the release of the album. The song sets the tone for the album beautifully. It features a downbeat acoustic guitar and a very stripped-down sound, vastly different than the Shiny Happy People sounds we heard from the group the last time around; it does build to a strong guitar in the middle, though. The song comes off to me as sort of flippant towards teen angst, an interesting approach considering the grunge revolution going on at the time in mainstream music.
Try Not To Breathe (3:51) starts off again with a stark, stripped-down sound. The song's theme seems to be that of depression even in the face of a functional relationship; what does one do if they have everything and are still depressed? There are a lot of times when I can identify with this song.
The third single from the album, released in February 1993, is also the third track. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite (4:09) borrows some themes (like the vocalization at the start) from the classic The Lion Sleeps Tonight, and is one of the more upbeat sounding songs on the album. The lyrics spell another tale, about a relationship of some sort that has collapsed (at least, that's the way I took it). As with any good song, this one is interpretive.
Perhaps the biggest hit from the album (at the time, anyway) was the fourth single, released in April 1993. Everybody Hurts (5:20) is very mellow, using strings and an extremely melancholic sound that seems to be an attempt to reach out to those depressed. And it works, at least for me; I'll often play this album when I am down and it does help to make me feel as though I am not alone.
New Orleans Instrumental No. 1 (2:16) is surprising. It is a very mellow and meandering instrumental that is really unexpected, but it somehow works. In fact, I believed that it included a horn section until someone informed me that it consisted only of electric piano and electric guitar. It follows up the preceding track very well in my mind.
Sweetness Follows (4:22) caps off the themes of the first half of the album, and actually the whole disc, quite well. Another melancholic track (with some nice strings) that gets across the point that no matter what bad things are going on, good things will follow (hence the title). The heavier part in the middle of the song ties it all together very nicely.
My favorite song on the album is the seventh track, Monty Got A Raw Deal (3:17), about how one shouldn't rely on a celebrity for your hopes and dreams. It's really a raw deal for both the fan and the person that is adulated; the adulated one can never live up to an image and the adulator can only be disappointed by it. It's perhaps a commentary on the fame that had hit the band like a freight train over the last year.
Ignoreland (4:28) is a relatively hard rocker for this album and is a huge commentary on the the sorry state of the modern media, largely afraid to do any real controversial reporting and instead toes the line fed to them by the government along with "human interest stories." The realization that the singer can't do anything, but feels better by screaming is a great conclusion to the song and closes it out very well.
The ninth track, Star Me Kitten (3:16), is about a relationship gone down the tubes. A hint is this: the "star" actually stands for another word that might have hindered album sales were it printed on the outside of the case. It's quite melancholy again, a contrast from the relative rock of the preceding track.
The album closes with three singles in a row, the first of which is the second single from the album, released in November of 1992. Man On The Moon (5:14) is now probably the most well-known song from the album, as it was used famously in the Andy Kaufman biopic of the same name. I prefer to think of it as an ode to creativity, using Kaufman as a clear example, but it makes sense to be thought of as a more direct ode to the man.
Nightswimming (4:18) was the fifth single from the album, released in July 1993. It's about reflection on a relationship long gone and swimming in the night to think about things. The piano and accompanying strings in this song really cinches things and makes this another winner on an excellent album.
The sixth single, released in December 1993 (in fact, as they were getting started on their next album, Monster), Find The River (3:50) closes out the album well. It's a melancholic song about apprehenshion about the future. It closes out the album on a melancholic but forward looking note, quite appropriate considering the next thing that would be heard from the band would be the distorted heavy guitars of What's The Frequency Kenneth?.
This is a fantastic mellow rock album that shows a band on top of its game, creating excellent and meaningful pop songs. If you like this album, I recommend R.E.M.'s New Adventures in Hi-Fi and Murmur, as well as The Man Who by Travis.