REM – Automatic for The People

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REM – Automatic for The PeopleAutomatic for the People is the eighth album by the American alternative rock band R.E.M., released in 1992 on Warner Bros. Records. Upon release, it reached number two on the U.S. album charts and yielded six singles. The album has sold 18 million copies worldwide and is widely considered one of the best records released in the 1990s.

After promotional duties for their previous album Out of Time in May 1991, the members of R.E.M. began work on their next album. Starting the first week of June, 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.

When it came time to make demos, the musicians recorded them in their standard band configuration. According to Buck, the musicians recorded about 30 songs. 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.” The songs “Drive”, “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite”, “Everybody Hurts”, and “Nightswimming” feature string arrangements by former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. Fricke stated, “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”.

Automatic for the People was released in October 1992. In the United States, the album reached number two on the Billboard 200 album charts. The album reached number one 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 United States (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 3.5 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan sales figures as of 2011.

Track listing

All songs written and composed by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe.

No. Title Length
1. “Drive” 4:31
2. “Try Not to Breathe” 3:50
3. “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” 4:06
4. “Everybody Hurts” 5:17
5. “New Orleans Instrumental No. 1” 2:13
6. “Sweetness Follows” 4:19
7. “Monty Got a Raw Deal” 3:17
8. “Ignoreland” 4:24
9. “Star Me Kitten” 3:15
10. “Man on the Moon” 5:13
11. “Nightswimming” 4:16
12. “Find the River” 3:50