By Matthew Perpetua, September 2007
Even though we know that Automatic For The People came out fifteen years ago, and we can clearly recall purchasing the neon yellow cassette back in the fall of 1992, it's increasingly difficult to hear the album without imagining that its songs have somehow always existed in the world. Unlike most other celebrated, canonized records from the early '90s, R.E.M.'s eighth album stands separate from the prevailing cultural trends of the era. Whereas most other rock bands at the time either embraced the aggressive, self-destructive angst of grunge or the brainy, aloof irony of indie rock, the Athens quartet presented something far more singular and timeless in the form of a tightly composed, occasionally baroque song cycle obsessed with mortality and the passage of time.
This is not to say that Automatic For The People is a relentless downer. Despite its morbid themes, Automatic isn’t so much a record about death as it is a work of art that acknowledges the fleeting nature of life, and so many of its songs, most notably the hits "Man on the Moon" and "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite," revel in the simple joy of being alive. On the opposite extreme, "Drive," "Monty Got A Raw Deal," and "Sweetness Follows" are stark and somber pieces that express the hollowness of grief and the subtle drag of existential dread with stunning accuracy and clarity. The rest of the songs fall someplace in between -- the sentimental reminiscence of "Nightswimming"; the grim depiction of a bitter break-up in "Star Me Kitten"; the romantic wanderlust of "Find The River" -- and taken as a whole, the record comes across like a panoramic view of life.Needless to say, Automatic For The People has had a profound impact on its audience, particularly those who first heard the record at a young and impressionable age.
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