Revolutions: R.E.M.'s "Automatic for the People"
REVOLUTIONS EXPLORES SOME OF THE RECORDS THAT HAVE ALTERED AND INFLUENCED THE MUSIC WORLD.
The Rock Hall and Klipsch Audio take fans deep inside these albums to showcase their significance and impact. In this episode, R.E.M.'s quietest record to date, 1992's Automatic for the People, challenges the many shades of grey the release offered listeners 25 years ago and today.
In 1992 R.E.M. deviated from their guitar-driven path and released their quietest record to date with Automatic For the People.
Unlike others, R.E.M.’s 8th studio album turned inward for inspiration. Between the lyrics on mortality, politics and memory, the track list produced ruminated on equal parts personal experience and insecurities shared nationwide.
These weighty lyrics came cloaked in contemplative rock 'n' roll songs with folk, country and soul accents to boot.
Emotionally and sonically, Automatic For The People added to the band’s already complex vision with its many shades of grey. As they had done since 1987's Document, the band teamed up with producer Scott Litt.
And, like 1991's hit Out of Time, Automatic For The People boasted an expanded instrumental palette. Most notably, Led Zeppelin's John Paul Jones contributed string arrangements on four songs.
The somber, soaring orchestral waltz "Everybody Hurts," offered comforting encouragement to those working through depression and loneliness. The plainspoken anthem is accessible to all listeners, even those outside of the alternative scene.
Thundering orchestral waves tussle with scorching electric guitar on the ominous "Drive."
The raucous political protest song "Ignoreland" seethes with anger, thanks to Michael Stipe's biting vocals and Peter Buck's electric guitar roars.
In stark contrast, the soulful "Star Me Kitten" is ethereal and seductive. In a nod to 10cc's "I'm Not In Love," bassist Mike Mills' voice is sampled and layered, creating a dreamy harmonic backdrop.
For the piano-based "Nightswimming," which also prominently features oboe, these strings add delicate, gorgeous shading.
But despite this darkness, Automatic For The People could also be whimsical. "Man on the Moon" is an homage to the late comic Andy Kaufman—Inside of the song’s catchiness is still the album’s pervasive balance between wit and sadness, dark and light.
Automatic For The People wasn't the most obvious next step R.E.M. could've made at the time.
However, the challenging album resonated: Automatic For The People spawned three U.S. top 40 chart hits and sold 18 million copies worldwide.
As was their way, R.E.M. veered off into different—and louder—places on subsequent albums.
But Automatic For The People once again cemented R.E.M.'s status as a bold rock 'n' roll band that relished finding success on their own creative terms.