...turned them into one of the biggest bands on the planet...
Jon Lusk 2007-04-19
By the time they released this album in 1992, REM had already made the transition from cult college rock band to a rather unlikely stadium act. After the ‘shiny happy’ pop of their breakthrough Out Of Time, the ruminative Automatic For the People turned them into one of the biggest bands on the planet for a while, selling a whopping 15 million copies. Singer Michael Stipe’s words had long since emerged from the deliberately foggy lo-fi production of their early years but the appeal of REM had always hinged on the hummability of their tunes, and there were more anthemic songs here than on any of their discs before or since. Perhaps surprisingly, though, it’s a more understated record than Out Of Time, leaning strongly towards an acoustic sound, with a third of the tracks even featuring orchestral arrangements by former Led Zeppelin bassist, John Paul Jones.
As usual, the lyrics are rather cryptic, and the way that “Sweetness Follows” rhymes ‘wonder’ with ‘thunder’ seems to suggest they’re sung for sonic effect as much as content. Perhaps the fact that “Man On The Moon” name checks glam rockers Mott The Hoople is a clue in that respect. Nonetheless, the sense of vulnerability and compassion evident in “Everybody Hurts” (and also “Sweetness Follows”) struck a chord with many.
The halting “Drive” is an unusual but effective opener and the title of “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” acknowledges its melodic debt to the much-covered “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. If there’s one downside to the wealth of familiar hits, it’s the way the album sags in its third quarter, from the plodding and incomprehensible “Monty Got A Raw Deal” and the rowdy “Ignoreland” to the rather slight “Star Me Kitten”. “Man On The Moon” comes to the rescue just in time with a sure-fire chorus, and Stipe’s Elvis impersonation provides a rare flash of humour, after which the closing hush of “Nightswimming” and “Find The River” make for an impressively cathartic dénouement. As long as you like