R.E.M. - Automatic for the People 25th Anniversary Edition

by James Gerard Rating:10 Release Date:2017-11-10
R.E.M. - Automatic for the People 25th Anniversary Edition
R.E.M. - Automatic for the People 25th Anniversary Edition

Few band’s can lay claim to having actually been there ‘from the beginning’, but in case of alt-rock, R.E.M not only spearheaded the genre but also managed to outlast nearly every one of their first-wave contemporaries.  And as with any band whose relevance stretches far beyond generational lines, R.E.M’s tenure as a band is one of multiple and uniquely defined artistic eras; each complete with a new and ever-growing audience.  Even the band’s third act (post drummer Bill Berry’s departure), where each new album felt more and more like a defiant reaction to the last, remains a testament to the band’s continued adherence to the DIY/punk-rock ethos that fueled their early years.

Sparing the obligatory track-by-track analysis, suffice it to say that ‘most’ (including the band themselves) consider Automatic For The People (their 8th album) to be R.E.M. at its zenith; an intensely focused musical statement that helped the band complete its journey from indie-rock outliers to the mainstream juggernaut they had finally become.

Automatic not only capitalized on the band’s first taste of mainstream success (by way of their previous record’s decade-defining hit “Losing My Religion”) with the crossover singles “Everybody Hurts” and “Man on the Moon”, the band also managed to gracefully weather the grunge/alt-rock wave spearheaded by the likes of Nirvana.  It was from this point that Stipe and Co. managed to parlay the sustained success of Automatic into a series of artistic risks (1994’s Monster and 1996’s New Adventures In Hi-Fi) that the band might not have been willing to take had they not already seen the view from the top of the mountain.

As for this ‘deluxe’ package, here’s a brief rundown of the odd’s and sods’ as well as what to make of them:

Disc 1 features the album itself, which is presented here in all of its remastered glory.  Where you fall on the whole ‘re-mastering’ debate notwithstanding (Automatic was already a perfect sounding album in my opinion that was in no need of ‘beefing’ up), the record avoids the ‘brickwalling’ that has otherwise marred many of the last decade’s most heralded re-releases.

Disc 2 contains a live performance from late ‘92 (their only gig that year) that shows off just how formidable a ‘band’ R.E.M. actually was.

Disc 3 is an obligatory collection of demos that illustrates just how much of a sonic journey the creation of Automatic was for the band.  Initially working without Stipe, the band had originally written a collection of upbeat rockers (the political diatribe “Ignoreland” was apparently the only carryover), but after presenting some three dozen songs to Stipe, the material was quickly whittled down into the melancholic tapestry that we have today.

Disc 4 features the entire album re-mixed in the new fangled ‘Dolby Atmos’ format.  For fans of the long-forgotten ‘DVD-audio’ this new mix will be a welcome reminder of that format’s limitless potential.  But for a general public that is largely consuming their music ‘on-the-go’, this disc is more of a novelty than anything else.

While these sorts of collections are becoming ever more commonplace for an industry that seems hell-bent on continuously cannibalizing its own past, R.E.M.’s Automatic For The People 25th Anniversary Edition is an example of the ‘right’ way to revisit a cherished record that actually deserves revisiting.  

And regardless of whether you associate the band with their indie-minded ‘IRS’ years, the folk-infused chart success of the late-80’s or the full-blown arena-rock status they achieved in the mid-90’s, where there is arguably a version of R.E.M. for just about ‘anyone’, Automatic For The People was perhaps the only time where they would so clearly be for ‘everyone’.

*It should also be noted that the packaging is top notch as far as these things go, with the deluxe edition featuring a 60 page book chock full of expanded liner-notes and such; thus the '10 out of 10' is for both the content as well as the execution.

Overall Rating (1)

5 out of 5 stars