Au­to­matic For The Peo­ple Bonus-packed 25th-an­niver­sary edi­tion of a gen­uine clas­sic.

Classic Rock - - The Hard Stuff Reissues - terry Staunton

World­wide sales of 18 mil­lion are proof that Au­to­matic holds a spe­cial place in the R.E.M canon, but its ini­tial re­lease in late 1992 was ac­com­pa­nied by ru­mours it would be the band’s last al­bum. Grapevine rum­blings sug­gested Michael

Stipe had con­tracted AIDS, and the whis­pers gath­ered mo­men­tum when sev­eral tracks were in­ter­preted as ad­dress­ing mor­tal­ity.

In truth, the group’s song­writ­ing was be­com­ing weight­ier and in­creas­ingly ma­ture on a collection that was less friv­o­lous than im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sors Green and Out Of Time. Those al­bums es­tab­lished R.E.M’s place at the top ta­ble of rock, mean­ing more peo­ple were lis­ten­ing – peo­ple per­haps un­fa­mil­iar with the som­bre pock­ets of the band’s early cat­a­logue.

What­ever the per­ceived – and in­ac­cu­rate – back­story, Au­to­matic im­presses in its scope and dar­ing. Cer­tainly, the drone-like Drive was a sur­prise choice for first sin­gle and open­ing cut, as if R.E.M were wil­fully avoid­ing the rock god game. Yes, there are mass-ap­peal sin­ga­longs (fu­ture karaoke sta­ple Ev­ery­body Hurts, the skew­ered wit of Man On The Moon), but they share space with more thought­ful ru­mi­na­tions on os­tracised Hol­ly­wood ho­mo­sex­u­als (Monty Got a Raw Deal) and Amer­ica’s de­cline un­der 12 straight years of Repub­li­can rule (Ig­nore­land).

To re­it­er­ate its sig­nif­i­cance, Au­to­matic is size­ably more sub­stan­tial than pre­vi­ous an­niver­sary reis­sues, run­ning to three CDs and a DVD, and one disc is par­tic­u­larly in­for­ma­tive of the group’s work­ing prac­tices. Mem­bers reg­u­larly switched in­stru­ments dur­ing re­hearsals, mak­ing the in­clu­sion here of 20 pre­vi­ously un­heard demos a real Aladdin’s cave. This is where we get in­ti­mate glimpses of the R.E.M machine: Mike’s Pop Song finds bas­sist Mills in light Mon­kees mode (a close rel­a­tive to Near Wild Heaven) but not do­ing enough to make the fi­nal al­bum. Mean­while, gui­tarist

Buck in­sti­gates Pete’s Acous­tic Idea and Peter’s New Song, both con­tain­ing el­e­ments that lead to Wake Her Up, ul­ti­mately sur­fac­ing as the fa­mil­iar The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite.

R.E.M didn’t tour to pro­mote the al­bum, but an­other disc fea­tures their only show of 1992, a home-town set stripped of the slick­ness that had be­come their de­fault set­ting.

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