R.E.M. was an American rock band from Athens, Georgia, formed in 1980 by drummer Bill Berry, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and lead vocalist Michael Stipe, who were students at the University of Georgia. Liner notes from some of the band’s albums list attorney Bertis Downs and manager Jefferson Holt as non-musical members. One of the first alternative rock bands, R.E.M. was noted for Buck’s ringing, arpeggiated guitar style; Stipe’s distinctive vocal quality, unique stage presence, and obscure lyrics; Mills’s melodic bass lines and backing vocals; and Berry’s tight, economical drumming style. In the early 1990s, other alternative rock acts such as Nirvana and Pavement viewed R.E.M. as a pioneer of the genre. After Berry left the band in 1997, the band continued its career in the 2000s with mixed critical and commercial success. The band broke up amicably in 2011 with members devoting time to solo projects after having sold more than 85 million albums worldwide and becoming one of the world’s best-selling music acts. (wikipedia)
Automatic for the People is the eighth studio album by American alternative rock band R.E.M., released by Warner Bros. Records on October 5, 1992 in the United Kingdom and Europe, and on the following day in the United States. R.E.M. began production on the album while their previous album, Out of Time (1991), was still ascending top albums charts and achieving global success. Aided by string arrangements from John Paul Jones, Automatic for the People features ruminations on mortality, loss, mourning and nostalgia.
Upon release, it received widespread acclaim from critics, reached number two on the US Billboard 200, and yielded six singles. Rolling Stone reviewer Paul Evans concluded of the album, “This is the members of R.E.M. delving deeper than ever; grown sadder and wiser, the Athens subversives reveal a darker vision that shimmers with new, complex beauty.” Automatic for the People has sold more than 18 million copies worldwide.
What would become Automatic for the People had its origins in the mixing sessions for R.E.M.’s previous album Out of Time, held at Paisley Park Studios in December 1990. There, demos for “Drive”, “Try Not to Breathe” and “Nightswimming” were recorded. After finishing promotional duties for Out of Time, the members of R.E.M. began formal work on their next album. Starting the first week of June 1991, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry met several times a week in a rehearsal studio to work on new material. Once a month they would take a week-long break. The musicians would often trade instruments: Buck would play mandolin, Mills would play piano or organ and Berry would play bass. Buck explained that writing without drums was productive for the band members. The band, intent on delivering an album of harder-rocking material after Out of Time, made an effort to write some faster rock songs during rehearsals, but came up with less than a half-dozen prospective songs in that vein.
The musicians recorded the demos in their standard band configuration. According to Buck, the musicians recorded about 30 songs. Lead singer Michael Stipe was not present at these sessions; instead, the band gave him the finished demos at the start of 1992. Stipe described the music to Rolling Stone early that year as “[v]ery mid-tempo, pretty fucking weird […] More acoustic, more organ-based, less drums”. In February, R.E.M. recorded another set of demos at Daniel Lanois’ Kingsway Studios in New Orleans.
The group decided to create finished recordings with co-producer Scott Litt at Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York, starting on March 30. The band recorded overdubs in Miami and New York City. String arrangements were recorded in Atlanta. After recording sessions were completed in July, the album was mixed at Bad Animals Studio in Seattle.
Despite R.E.M.’s initial desire to make an album of rocking, guitar-dominated songs after Out of Time, music critic David Fricke noted that instead Automatic for the People “seems to move at an even more agonized crawl” than the band’s previous release. Peter Buck took the lead in suggesting the new direction for the album. The album dealt with themes of loss and mourning inspired by “that sense of […] turning 30”, according to Buck. “The world that we’d been involved in had disappeared, the world of Hüsker Dü and The Replacements, all that had gone […] We were just in a different place and that worked its way out musically and lyrically.” “Sweetness Follows”, “Drive”, and “Monty Got a Raw Deal” in particular expressed much darker themes than any of the band’s previous material and “Try Not to Breathe” is about Stipe’s grandmother dying.
The songs “Drive”, “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite”, “Everybody Hurts” and “Nightswimming” feature string arrangements by former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. Fricke stated that “ballads, in fact, define the record”, and noted that the album featured only three “rockers”: “Ignoreland”, “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” and “Man on the Moon”.
“It pretty much went according to plan,” Litt reported. “Compared to Monster, it was a walk in the park. Out of Time had an orchestral arrangement—so, when we did Automatic, judging where Michael was going with the words, we wanted to scale it down and make it more intimate.”
A live version of “Drive” recorded at this November 19, 1992 show appears on Alternative NRG.
A live version of “Drive” recorded at this 11/19/1992 show appears on Alternative NRG.
Automatic for the People was released in October 1992. In the United States, the album reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200 album charts. The album reached No. 1 in the United Kingdom, where it topped the UK Albums Chart on four separate occasions. Despite not having toured after the release of Out of Time, R.E.M. again declined to tour in support of this album. Automatic for the People has been certified four times platinum in the US (four million copies shipped), six times platinum in the United Kingdom (1.8 million shipped), and three times platinum in Australia (210,000 shipped). The album has sold 3.52 million copies in the US, according to Nielsen SoundScan sales figures as of 2017.
Automatic for the People yielded six singles over the course of 1992 and 1993: “Drive”, “Man on the Moon”, “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite”, “Everybody Hurts”, “Nightswimming” and “Find the River”. Lead single “Drive” was the album’s highest-charting domestic hit, reaching No. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100. Other singles charted higher overseas: “Everybody Hurts” charted in the top ten in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia.
A live, harder, version of “Drive” appears on the Alternative NRG, recorded at Athens’ 40 Watt Club on November 19, 1992, during an invitation-only concert supporting Greenpeace Action. A re-recorded, slower version of “Star Me Kitten”, featuring William S. Burroughs, was released on Songs in the Key of X: Music from and Inspired by the X-Files. (wikipedia)
A live version of “Drive” recorded at this 11/19/1992 show appears on Alternative NRG:
Turning away from the sweet pop of Out of Time, R.E.M. created a haunting, melancholy masterpiece with Automatic for the People. At its core, the album is a collection of folk songs about aging, death, and loss, but the music has a grand, epic sweep provided by layers of lush strings, interweaving acoustic instruments, and shimmering keyboards. Automatic for the People captures the group at a crossroads, as they moved from cult heroes to elder statesmen, and the album is a graceful transition into their new status. It is a reflective album, with frank discussions on mortality, but it is not a despairing record — “Nightswimming,” “Everybody Hurts,” and “Sweetness Follows” have a comforting melancholy, while “Find the River” provides a positive sense of closure. R.E.M. have never been as emotionally direct as they are on Automatic for the People, nor have they ever created music quite as rich and timeless, and while the record is not an easy listen, it is the most rewarding record in their oeuvre. (by Stephen Thomas Erlewine)
Bill Berry (drums, percussion, keyboards, bass, background vocals, melodica on 12.)
Peter Buck (guitar, mandolin, bass, bouzouki on 07.)
Mike Mills (bass, guitar, keyboards, accordion, background vocals)
Michael Stipe (vocals)
Scott Litt (harmonica, clavinet)
Deborah Workman (oboe on 01., 03., 04. + 11.)
Denise Berginson-Smith – Lonnie Ottzen – Patti Gouvas – Sandy Salzinger – Sou-Chun Su – Jody Taylor
Knox Chandler – Kathleen Kee – Daniel Laufer – Elizabeth Proctor Murphy
Reid Harris – Paul Murphy – Heidi Nitchie
01. Drive 4.31
02. Try Not To Breathe 3.50
03. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite 4.09
04. Everybody Hurts” 5.20
05. New Orleans Instrumental No. 1 2.16
06. Sweetness Follows 4.21
07. Monty Got A Raw Deal 3.17
08. Ignoreland” 4.27
09. Star Me Kitten 3.16
10. Man On The Moon 5.14
11. Nightswimming 4.18
12. Find The River 3.49
All tracks are written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe
More from R.E.M.:
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