While I was aware it was happening, I didn’t bother with any of the R.E.M. reissues that have been coming out over the last 10 years or so. I finally dipped in with a not yet reviewed Out of Time in 2016 and absolutely loved the sound so started collecting the other more readily available remasters. For it’s 25th Anniversary in 2017, the band issued deluxe versions of Automatic For The People. Originally released in 1992, this elegiac album went supernova amongst a sea of grunge, baggy Manchester beats and the golden age of rap.
First track and single, “Drive” recalls David Essex’s “Rock On”. While barely scraping into the top 30 in the US, the song made the top 10 in Canada. The band tip it’s hat to another classic, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” with the upbeat “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” which plays like this album’s “Shiny Happy People”. The Bill Berry written “Everybody Hurts” was everywhere in 1993 and its freeway traffic jam video images are one of the most memorable of the 90s.
The politically driven “Ignoreland” blasts out of the speakers as the hardest track here. Destined to be a concert classic, “Man On the Moon” was virtually a non-hit when released as the second single. Featuring just Michael Stipe and Mike Mills on piano, the penultimate track, “Nightswimming” is one of the most beautiful tracks the band ever released, one easily recalled at the lake when the sun starts to set. Hard to follow up one of the best tracks in the band’s long cannon, “Find The River” closes out the album on yet another high note with Stipe noting, “nothing is going my way”. While Out of Time is what pushed them into superstardom, Automatic For the People is R.E.M. at the peak of their powers.
Having waited nearly two years to see if the super deluxe version would drop it price, it has never fallen much below $90CAD. Finally losing hope on that set, instead we opted for the 2CD deluxe with the biggest loss being a disc of rarities not included here. What is included is a 1992 concert from the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia. Famously the band did not tour for either Out of Time or Automatic so this is a rare live recording from that era.
The disc gets off to a bit of a shaky start with four tracks from Automatic that don’t really hit including the aforementioned “Man on the Moon” that a few years later on the Monster tour would turn into a massive singalong. Where the band really hit their stride is with tracks from Out of Time including a sparkling version of “Losing My Religion” that will now be my go-to version on playlists. This is followed up with a haunting “Country Feedback” and a bouncy version of “Me In Honey”. Berry’s thunder like drumming and Peter Buck’s swirling guitar power the band through 1986’s “Begin the Begin”. Two covers appear in the Mill’s sung, and The Turtles classic, “Love Is All around” before Stipe returns with The Stooges “Funtime”. To finish off the night, the band lift the roof off the club with rip roaring version of “Radio Free Europe” showing off the chops that made them one of the must-see bands through the 80s and 90s.
Automatic For The People – 10/10
Live At The 40 Watt Club – 8/10