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Automatic for the People Re-Issue

Automatic for the People Re-Issue

Automatic for the People Re-Issue

R.E.M. released a twenty fifth anniversary edition of Automatic for the People late October of 2017 (this means it was originally released in October of 1992) that comes with a live recording from the 40 Watt Club in Athens Georgia, as well as a twenty four page booklet that includes liner notes and interviews from the band members.  The original album has been remastered and the sound clarified.  Ugh, ok, those are the reissue specs, but let’s talk about R.E.M., a band that has been recording albums since the 1983 release of Murmur.


I don’t remember how I first found R.E.M.. Back in an alternative universe when you relied on word of mouth, a friend with access to Chicago radio stations, or watched MTV’s 120 minutes like it was church, music could be elusive, and it was an elite crowd that found the jewels. R.E.M. was college alternative rock or the introspective version to an alternative music scene dominated by the Anthony Keidis’s of the world (Fight like a Brave, anyone?).  Somewhere early on I heard Murmur’s Radio Free Europe and knew it had meaning – although lyrics by R.E.M. can be a discernable, layered journey. Life’s Rich Pageant (1986) was the first entire album from R.E.M. that became a constant: lyrics mumbled while cleaning bathtubs, ironing dad’s shirts, days drifted off in classrooms hearing Begin the Begin over and over again in my mind:

Birdie in the hand for life’s rich demand

The insurgency began and you missed it

I looked for it and I found it

Miles Standish proud, congratulate me

Further along I found Document (1987) and like everyone else jumped up and down to It’s the End of the World as we Know it and worked on wrapping my mind and mouth around the metaphorical sledgehammer of lyrics created by Mills, Buck, Stipe, and Berry.  It was almost danceable, I mean it was danceable.  They followed that up with Green (1988).  The Atlantic called this album R.E.M.’s greatest, “the world needs its dynamic optimism more than ever” they wrote; Stipe commented that Green “had to be a record that was incredibly uplifting – not necessarily happy, but a record that was uplifting to off-set the store bought cynicism and easy condemnation of the world we’re living in now.”

From Green on I’m lost as to what R.E.M. created.  They had a breakthrough album with Out of Time and the song Losing my Religion. The video for Losing my Religion was on heavy rotation and I got sick of it.  When Automatic for the People came out I felt like I was listening to Michael Stipe get old. Everybody Hurts, Night Swimming, and Find the River all sounded like, and still sound like, I’m headed for a car accident in January – almost too reflective, like he wants me to miserable: “Nothing’s going my way” Stipe sings.  Stipe and Mills were interviewed by NPR in October about the re-release of this album and Stipe admitted “Automatic for the People is a slower, more somber record reflecting on transition, death and sadness.” And it works for me now, twenty five years later, I remember my own heartbreaking and caustic transitions that cut me from old ideas and people, and listening now to Try not to Breathe I know how I felt:

I will try not to burden you

I can hold these inside

I will hold my breath

Until all these shivers subside

Just look in my eyes

I will try not to worry you

I have seen things that you will never see

Leave it to memory me

I shudder to breathe

“It’s a direct line to our feelings and to memories of places that we were when we heard a song” Stipe told NPR when asked why Automatic for the People still resonates.  Twenty five years is a good amount of time to allow what seemed too pop-ish in 1992 to sound good now, and Drive is a great song that could have been on any album (that had to be said somewhere in this post).  R.E.M.’s music has proven to be timeless and nostalgic through the years, and even though they officially called it quits in 2011, we’ll always have these re-releases

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