Automatic for the People
“Today I need something more substant, more substantial” sings Michael Stipe in Automatic for the People‘s ‘The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite’. And R.E.M. deliver with Automatic for the People, a vast improvement from the fun but shallow Out of Time. While the two albums share an acoustic sensibility, Automatic for the People has a sincere and poignant core, and it’s a much more affecting album. One important and unlikely collaborator is Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones, who contributes some gorgeous string parts, particularly to the slow burning opener ‘Drive’.
Other gorgeous pieces include the elegant and lilting closer ‘Find the River’ and the cello driven ‘Sweetness Follows’, while even the overplayed ‘Everybody Hurts’, written by drummer Bill Berry, has plenty of emotional resonance. There are plenty of enjoyably idiosyncratic acoustic songs like ‘Monty Got a Raw Deal’ and ‘Man on the Moon’, and the only real throwaway is the brief instrumental. Automatic for the People isn’t all acoustic ballads – the political ‘Ignoreland’ rocks and provides a brief respite from the gentle tunes and serious themes.
Automatic For The People showcases the acoustic R.E.M. at their peak, with a successful balance between sincerity and commercialism.