All-Time Albums: #66


R.E.M. Automatic For The People

Drive 4:30 (UK single, #11)
2 Try Not To Breathe 3:49
3 The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite 4:06 (UK single, #17)
4 Everybody Hurts 5:17 (UK single, #7)
5 New Orleans Instrumental No. 1 2:12
Sweetness Follows 4:19
Monty Got A Raw Deal 3:16
8 Ignoreland 4:24
9 Star Me Kitten 3:15
10 Man On The Moon 5:12 (UK single, #18)
11 Nightswimming 4:16 (UK single, #27)
12 Find The River 3:49 (UK single, 54)

For almost a decade, R.E.M. huffed and puffed around the edge of the mainstream, building up a reputation that increased with every new album. By 1991 the tipping point had arrived with Out Of Time, via a genuine hit single Losing My Religion and cemented by the throwaway dippy pop of Shiny Happy People. Stylistically, it was all over the place; the next album would be far more consistent. The next album was Automatic For The People. And it became absolutely huge.

R.E.M. are very adept at rocking out. They can out-noise anyone if they wish. On Automatic… they chose to showcase their gentler, introspective side. Instead of trying to write frivolous hits (Stand, Shiny Happy People) to help sell the less commercial stuff, they simply released the less commercial stuff right from the off (could any other band have led a campaign with something as hypnotic and minimal as Drive?).

There was still room for unconvincing jollility (The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite) but most of the album is beautifully restrained and evocative; Nightswimming, Sweetness Follows, Find The River and the Lynch-inspired Fuck Me Kitten (renamed for the outer sleeve as it was still 1992).

Its ubiquity at the time, selling in obscene amounts through 1992 and 1993 (taking on a new life after Everybody Hurts hit the singles chart), almost detracts from how good an album Automatic For The People is. It’s why I subconsciously prefer Green these days.

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