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Old 06-20-2010, 10:11 PM   #91 (permalink)
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Alright y'all, Automatic for the People is next. The review should be up in a few days. Thanks for reading!
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Old 06-28-2010, 10:54 PM   #92 (permalink)
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Automatic for the People
Released 1992
Warner Brothers Records



"You don't owe me anything / You don't want this sympathy"

As plaintively stated in "Everybody Hurts", sadness is a universal human emotion. At some point in his or her life, every person has experienced some event of such unequivocal pain, loss, or disappointment that makes us grieve; disoriented, we face the world with the kind of infantile vulnerability that defines a child. We come to crave a mother's consolation, we cry for help, and for better or worse, we redefine ourselves in the process. My depression now defines my life, impacting my grades, my social behavior, and my sense of self-worth. With breathtaking scope and startling accuracy, Automatic for the People charts this cycle of depression through Michael Stipe's poetic lens, and in doing so, provides an ocean of hope to those trapped within this vicious circle.

The album begins with the chilling "Drive", a, well, driving minor key acoustic guitar led anthem which, through heavily reverbed and echoed vocals, sarcastically mocks the Jonathan Richmand/Springsteen rock cliche of kids driving away from home with hope for a new life. It's bleak outlook on this common musical notion perfectly emulates the initial feeling of cynicism and bitterness towards life that depression leads to. The song is hopelessly dark, and as it climaxes, Peter Buck's electric guitar storms in, furiously announcing the album's arrival. Subsequently, "Try Not To Breath" offers a disturbing but brilliant double entendre. "I will try not to breath" Michael Stipe sings, either a startlingly morose threat of suicide or a childish reversal of the old saying "Don't hold your breath." Who is it that Stipe is waiting for? It is not a specific person or thing so much as a call for help. Furthermore, the song takes on a third meaning when one considers the second verse. "This decision is mine. I have lived a full life and these are the eyes that I want you to remember." In light of Terri Schaivo and cases like hers, "Try Not To Breath" seems to be a statement of a rational and self aware need to die. However, by the end of the song, Stipe sings that he only wants the ambiguous second person to understand to "remember". This internal torture marks Stipe's own depression, while the subject matter helps the listener understand his fascination with death, a theme which is nearly ubiquitous on "Automatic for the People." The following track, "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" has been criticized as throwaway and thematically out of synch with the rest of the album, but while I recognize its upbeat and seemingly joyful nature as different, a closer listen reveals its ironic nature as a simply great pop song. The indecipherable chorus is classic R.E.M. - impossible to understand, and seemingly meaningless once the words are finally discerned. Thankfully, Sidewinder does provide a much needed dose of joy early on in an otherwise stark and depressing album.

"Everybody Hurts", which follows, is somewhat deservedly disliked among R.E.M. fans. For some, it was seen as the point at which they stopped being a "cool" band. It certainly does contain a fairly high concentration of sappiness, as well as lyrically coming across as somewhat middling and overwrought ("Sometimes everything is wrong/Now it's time to sing along""). But who can deny the emotional power harnessed by that chorus? "Everybody Hurts" has a near-Hey Jude level of epic crescendo; the final "You are not alone!" is enough to bring tears at my most pathetic. Perhaps one needs to approach this song from a certain perspective to enjoy it. While line's such as the central "Everybody Hurts, everybody cries" might come off as generic and meaningless in a normal state of mind, they gain innocently beautiful meaning in a sad one. After the emotional tour de force that Everybody Hurts evokes, the listener is graced with the sombre "New Orleans Instrumental No. 1", a mellow funeral effigy which at just over two minutes never overstays its welcome but rather provides a quiet period for reflection. Without vocals, "New Orleans" forces the listener to focus on the instrumentation, which is mostly the same throughout the whole album. Unlike Out of Time, which boasted lush, occasionally overdone instrumentation and production, Automatic is more sparse. It still retains a very high production value, but everything on Automatic is more reserved than its predecessor. The string arrangements, while prevalent, are more folk influenced, as well as the organ tracks, which recall Green more than Out of Time. The guitar also takes on a very different role for Automatic. No longer the jangley riff-master of the IRS Years, Peter Buck's guitar contributions here are rarely more than an afterthought, often solemnly following Michael's bright vocal melodies. Rather, Buck's strength shows more on the mandolin led tracks. His playing shines on the sinister "Monty Got a Raw Deal", which boasts a mandolin riff of Losing My Religion proportions.

Anyway, "Sweetness Follows" continues on with the theme of death and rebirth. Michael talks about burying his mother and father, and asks what would happen if he "lost another". I am not sure if "Sweetness Follows" is suggesting that sarcastically or honestly, but the vocal harmonies and horn arrangement make it a great song. "Ignoreland", is upbeat, like "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" except instead of pop perfection, it is angry and void of the joy and happiness that "Sidewinder" encapsulates. Led by a charging electric guitar riff and a blasting harmonica, Michael Stipe's stream-of-consciousness lyrics read like OK Computer-era Radiohead and play like Henry Rollins after a trip through the library. "I'm just profoundly frustrated by all this. So, fuck you, man" might be the most hilarious thing Michael Stipe has ever written, intentional or not. Regardless, "Ignoreland" is an awesome, high energy song the internal frustration of which captures the rage of a depressive episode to a tee. The reflective "Star Me Kitten", an interesting, albeit flawed experiment, serves as a cooling period for the hateful feeling invoked by "Ignoreland", and in the context of the album, it works.

Finally, the album culminates in perhaps my favorite album closing trio in popular music. "Man On the Moon" is a slide guitar led mid-tempo hit single which covers topics as varied as Moses, Darwin, Elvis, and Andy Kaufman. None of it makes any sense but somehow when I'm sad it never fails to bring me to tears. The chorus is just glorious, with Mike Mills backing vocals adding so much, as they always seem to do. It's followed by "Nightswimming", an absolute masterpiece which like Wendell Gee seven years earlier, stands out as the clear highlight of an amazing album. From the first piano line, Nightswimming plays like a modernized "Moon River", as Michael reads innocently and beautifully his story of swimming at night in Athens, forgetting his shirt at the water's edge, his shyness hiding just beneath the surface as he contemplates his fear of getting caught, of recklessness and water. "These things they go away, replaced by everyday" Michael sings. On an album full of turns and stops at which one has the opportunity to fully reassess himself, Nightswimming is the last and most meaningful point of reflection. In some ways, it feels like the culmination of a brilliant musical career, and a funeral song for a band that from this point would never recapture such flawless brilliance. Whatever your interpretation, it is easy to appreciate "Nightswimming" as one of the greatest musical achievements credited to R.E.M.

Impossibly difficult to follow, and seemingly a great closer itself, Nightswimming is succeeded by "Find The River" which, however impossibly, serves not only to perfectly close this monumental album, but to inject a final sense that all is not lost into an incredibly dense, depressing record. Though Stipe admits "Nothing is going my way" he still finds "a need to leave". Finally, after a beautiful but harrowing 48 minutes, Michael Stipe leaves the listener with this, and as such, I will do the same.

"The river to the ocean goes,
A fortune for the undertow
None of this is going my way
There is nothing left to throw
Of ginger, lemon, indigo,
Coriander stem and rows of hay
Strength and courage overrides
The privileged and weary eyes
Of river poet search naivete
Pick up here and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
All of this is coming your way"


Key Tracks: "Drive", "Nightswimming", "Find the River"

10/10



Next Step: Modest Mouse - The Moon & Antarctica

Last edited by Rickenbacker; 06-28-2010 at 11:00 PM.
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Old 07-04-2010, 12:10 PM   #93 (permalink)
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Spot on review. Good job. My first R.E.M. album and easily my favorite. I discovered it right when I needed it too.

Oh, and Mon and Antarctica is a great suggestion,
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Old 07-06-2010, 07:39 PM   #94 (permalink)
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So I just got an advance copy of the Fables of the Reconstruction reissue and I'm loving it. Expect the review for the bonus disk next. Should be up in a few days.
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Old 07-06-2010, 08:46 PM   #95 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Rickenbacker View Post

10/10


Next Step: Modest Mouse - The Moon & Antarctica
I'm in no mood to make a cogent point right now but if you consider this album a 10/10 then your previous 10/10s don't mean much because this is certainly not a perfect album (not even close). I don't like the MM comparison either

Obviously you are a fanboy but this is too much. I do like the album btw - it's just that most of it's shit compared to a lot of their older stuff. Truly
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Old 07-06-2010, 09:32 PM   #96 (permalink)
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I think a significant factor in the formation of my opinions regarding an album is my personal experience associated with the album. Consequently, this is a factor in my rating system as well. I understand that different people have different standards and different opinions and I wish you would respect mine. Thanks. For christ's sake, the rating doesn't even matter anyway. Isn't the review far more important?

Also, I chose that Modest Mouse album because I think both albums have a similarly dark, cold feel to them, and both deal with themes of death and isolation.

And I don't think that most of it's "shit" I think it's a great album, though very different from much of their IRS stuff. I'm sorry you don't feel the same way.
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Old 07-06-2010, 09:49 PM   #97 (permalink)
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Good review of AFTP. Personally I would give the album 9/10. It's near perfect, except for the song "Ignoreland". Not my most favourite song of theirs, and I believe it would have fit better on an album like Green, mostly due to the strong political tones in the song.
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Old 07-06-2010, 09:55 PM   #98 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rickenbacker View Post
I think a significant factor in the formation of my opinions regarding an album is my personal experience associated with the album. Consequently, this is a factor in my rating system as well. I understand that different people have different standards and different opinions and I wish you would respect mine. Thanks. For christ's sake, the rating doesn't even matter anyway. Isn't the review far more important?
Yeah the review is more important. I almost added an edit to say that I actually think your review of the album is quite a good one. My personal feelings about how different this is from other albums that you've rated 10/10 provoked me

Quote:
Also, I chose that Modest Mouse album because I think both albums have a similarly dark, cold feel to them, and both deal with themes of death and isolation.
Well, that's a lot more cogent a point than I was willing to make. I can see the comparison

Quote:
And I don't think that most of it's "shit" I think it's a great album, though very different from much of their IRS stuff. I'm sorry you don't feel the same way.
Honestly I haven't listened to the album in years. But I listened to it a lot once upon a time. I remember about a 40% shit factor.

I could be wrong though and I didn't mean to trash your review. The 10/10 obviously made me prickle but, like you said, to each his own
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Old 07-06-2010, 10:06 PM   #99 (permalink)
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Originally Posted by Engine View Post

Honestly I haven't listened to the album in years. But I listened to it a lot once upon a time. I remember about a 40% shit factor.

I could be wrong though and I didn't mean to trash your review. The 10/10 obviously made me prickle but, like you said, to each his own
I'm sorry. Automatic meant a lot to me when I was a little kid and I had to acknowledge that. Sometimes it's hard to downrate an album that you've essentially grown up with. I guess it just has a lot of sentimental and nostalgic value, even though it doesn't matter to me as much now as it did when I was younger.
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Old 12-02-2010, 08:30 PM   #100 (permalink)
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Good job Rickenbacker, just read the AFTP review and will enjoy reading the rest when I'm not half asleep. Its a shame REM were never the same band since.
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