R.E.M., “Automatic for the People” (25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

R.E.M.
Automatic for the People (25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)
CRAFT
9/10

Following the release of 1991’s Out of Time, R.E.M. completed their ascent from the Southern college rock circuit to mainstream rock stardom. Hits like “Losing My Religion” and “Shiny Happy People” had a broader reach than anything they’d done before, and it may have seemed like their journey was complete. Instead of resting on that success, the quartet parlayed it into one of the most important—and best—albums of the 1990s.

At a time when grunge and alternative dominated airwaves and MTV, R.E.M. were busy crafting a darker follow-up that embraced indie and country rock. Now, twenty-five years later, that landmark record is getting the exhaustive reissue treatment. This edition of the album gives diehards a glimpse behind what went into making Automatic for the People an alt-rock classic.

Included is a November, 1992, live show at the 40 Watt Club in the band’s hometown of Athens, Georgia. The long-bootlegged set, which served as a benefit for Greenpeace, has been available for years, but this clean version offers another listen as to how explosive the band was at their peak. They didn’t tour in support Out of Time nor Automatic for the People, so this show was a tentpole moment in their history. Sludgy versions of the Automatic tracks shine, as do gritty versions of “Losing My Religion” and “Finest Worksong,” which are both upbeat and energetic. It will also make fans wonder why the quartet didn’t tour behind their most commercially successful albums. Listening to R.E.M. in a club setting like this is as raw an experience as any provided from a grunge band to emerge at this time. This energy and franticness became hallmarks of their arena shows in support of Monster a few years later.

On the third disc, demo tracks like “Wake Her Up,” a.k.a. the future rocker known as “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite,” and “Howler Monkey,” which later became known as “Ignoreland,” give a fascinating look into what really made Automatic for the People what it eventually became. Michael Stipe was known to write his lyrics separately from the band, and hearing his wails on “C to D Slide 13,” alongside the music that would become “Man on the Moon,” is a fascinating listen. This and the other unreleased bits make this set an essential entry into R.E.M. folklore.

Sometimes, a reissue of a classic album can reveal too much of the process. With this one, the opposite is the case. The twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Automatic for the People gives fans just enough to keep them happy, but doesn’t give away the full myth that went into making the album. The live set is a nice bonus, yet it’s the demos that separate this collection from the rest. Getting a taste to the process is rewarding, and on an album as important as this, the thought of putting together a collection that pays tribute to its magnitude is well worth the listen. 

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