Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2007

R.E.M.'s "Automatic For the People" Turns 15

By Evan Rytlewski
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Tick tick, tock tock It's an anniversary even the band members probably would have forgotten without a reminder: R.E.M.'s Automatic For the People, one of the most masterful but also most unassuming albums of the '90s, was released 15 years ago this week. The music site Stereogum has commemorated this anniversary by launching a sub-site, Drive XV: A Tribute to Automatic For the People, an impressive shrine to the album, complete with an essay, downloadable covers of its songs by acts like Rogue Wave, The Wrens and Meat Puppets, and song-by-song insight from R.E.M.'s Mike Mills. Automatic isn't a record that doesn't typically receive this kind of attention. We're constantly reminded about the masterfulness of Nevermind or the important of Sgt. Pepper. Appetite For Destruction was recently celebrated with an extensive Rolling Stone cover story. Automatic For The People is also a regular on the same self-aggrandizing "greatest albums of all time" lists as those records, but always further down, and toasted with shorter word counts. That's just as well. It's such an elegant, unpretentious album that it'd be crass to honor it with unnecessary strum and bang; that's why Stereogum's tasteful tribute is such a pleasant surprise. It gives Automatic the love it so richly deserves without piling on hyperbolic praise. It'd be a stretch to argue that Automatic, an oddity in even R.E.M.'s discography, let alone the greater canon of alternative rock, changed the face of music, so the authors of Drive XV remember it for what it was: a gorgeous, unexpected respite from the bombastic grunge of the day, an album that's strangely out of time. "It's increasingly difficult to hear the album without imagining that its songs have somehow always existed in the world," Fluxblog founder Matthew Perpetua writes in his essay.
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