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Automatic for the People

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

All songs by Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe.

Automatic for the People cover

Eighth Album.

Released: 12th October 1992.
Record Label: Warner Bros.
12 Tracks.
Duration: 48:52


Millions have been waiting on the new R.E.M. album, and almost none of them are barmy. It could have been reverence mortis time, but Automatic For The People turns out to be both aptly unfathomable and just the job. The contradictory elements of the band's rock'n'roll cravings and the singer's ruminative tendencies sit together like completely different things in a pod. Other than on Ignoreland, a stonkalong satire of Reagan/Bush America, it's folk they start from. Acoustic guitars lead the way into Drive (the first single), Monty Got A Raw Deal and several others. Hard on their heels come Michael Stipe's vocals, high and sharp-edged with that severe absence of emoting long associated with a finger in the ear - though there are exceptions such as Try Not To Breathe where Stipe goes into character as an old man wrestling with the imminence of death. But the subliminal message throughout, seemingly, is that the singer is always in control, a distance is maintained. It's crucial to the R.E.M. effect because, at the same time, the band are eager to throw a cheery arm round the listener's shoulder - rock on in with cleverly pointed touches on guitar, organ or a subtly assembled backing vocal from Mike Mills. The strings are impressive too, whether melancholy (Everybody Hurts) or jouncing ELOishly (The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight). Astonishingly, several of the arrangements were by John Paul Jones, eking out his pension post-Mission production and Led Zeppelin. So a lively form of bliss is readily available from the sounds of Automatic For The People.

The words are the best and the worst of it: licensed to be bloody difficult, if not incomprehensible. All interpretations of Drive or Man On The Moon (elegiac?) or Star Me Kitten (sexy?) should own up to being long shots. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight is a brainteaser involving a phone and, uh, if the coiled cord is the snake ... it still doesn't make obvious sense. At least half the album must be filed under skull-scratchers. Nonetheless, its character does emerge eventually. In fact, it's about Life. Without embarrassment and via sundry dark metaphors, it enquires ''What's it all about, if anything?''. While Try Not To Breathe dramatises a moment of personal torment, Find The River goes for the huge-size screen, adroitly diverting classic images of river, sea and flowers to eco-philosophical purposes (''We're closer now than light years to go,'' Stipe pronounces, glumly). Sweetness Follows piles on the misery by flaunting soured, unconvincing consolation for common grief, the loss of parents, brothers, sisters. Yet, if this all seems entirely too much, there's also Nightswimming and Everybody Hurts. Both do a slowdance with death, then pull off the aesthetic pirouette necessary to turn it all around. As the nightswimmer, Stipe sloughs off despond in unsocialworkerly fashion with scalp-prickling music and the mysterious clarity of lines like ''September's coming soon/Pining for the moon/And what if there were two/Side by side in orbit around the Ferris sun''. In Everybody Hurts he sings a counterpart to the Kate Bush role in Peter Gabriel's Don't Give Up - ''You feel like you're lost/No, no, you're not alone''. Big emotions, big ideas, and you believe them too, without feeling a fool. For properly beloved entertainers, R.E.M. can give a person quite a going over.

By Phil Sutcliffe.

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