Automatic for the People is the eighth studio album by R.E.M., released on October 5, 1992. Starting production while Out of Time, their previous effort, shot up the charts, the album shifts to a more acoustically-driven, melancholic sound than previous works (featuring string arrangements by John Paul Jones) and takes a decidedly more dour tone than even Green, with lyrics focusing on themes of mourning, morality, loss, nostalgia, and depression. The end result was R.E.M.'s biggest commercial success, selling over 18 million copies worldwide since its release and peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard charts.
Automatic for the People was backed by six singles; "Drive", "Man on the Moon", "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite", "Everybody Hurts", "Nightswimming", and "Find the River". Although the album is seen as polarizing to some fans, critics have been more favorable: it was ranked at #249 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list, #65 on NME's similar list, and is currently at #42 on Acclaimed Music's compilation of critics' lists; it's also a personal favorite of bandmates Peter Buck and Mike Mills, for what it's worth. The album was nominated for Album of the Year at the 1994 Grammy Awards, but lost to Whitney Houston's soundtrack for The Bodyguard. It was also nominated for Best Alternative Music Album at the same ceremony, but lost that award to Zooropa by U2.
On a somewhat darker note, this album is known for the fact that Kurt Cobain of Nirvana listened to it shortly before committing suicide in 1994, similarly to what Iggy Pop's The Idiot was to Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis back in 1980. Michael Stipe would later write "Let Me In" (off of the band's next album, Monster) in Cobain's memory.
- "Drive" (4:31)
- "Try Not to Breathe" (3:50)
- "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" (4:06)
- "Everybody Hurts" (5:17)
- "New Orleans Instrumental No. 1" (2:13)
- "Sweetness Follows" (4:19)
- "Monty Got a Raw Deal" (3:17)
- "Ignoreland" (4:24)
- "Star Me Kitten" (3:15)
- "Man on the Moon" (5:13)
- "Nightswimming" (4:16)
- "Find the River" (3:50)
Nighttroping deserves a quiet night:
- An Aesop: The message of "Everybody Hurts" is "Don't kill yourself."
- Buffy Speak: "Monty Got a Raw Deal":The movies had that movie thing
- Book-Ends: "Monty Got a Raw Deal" begins and ends with the line "Monty, this seems strange to me".
- Censored Title: "Star Me Kitten". The song actually says "Fuck Me Kitten", which was in fact its second titlenote , before Meg Ryan (who was filming Sleepless in Seattle in... well, Seattle, where the band recorded part of Automatic for the People) convinced Stipe to change it, saying that where she'd grown up, if such a Precision F-Strike appeared on any album, it wouldn't have been put on shelves (or at least would've gotten a "Parental Advisory" label).
- Color Motif: Continuing R.E.M.'s longstanding association with the color yellow, the CD label is bright yellow and early CD copies feature a translucent yellow media tray, similar to the translucent red tray on David Byrne's Uh-Oh from earlier that year.
- Concept Album: Loosely; several of the songs are about death in some way or another.
- Continuity Nod: "The Great Beyond" features the lines "Here's a little agit for the never-believer/Here's a little ghost for the offering" as a Call-Back to "Man on the Moon", where those lines are originally from.
- Corpsing: In "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" after the line "...and a reading from Dr. Seuss", as he apparently couldn't pronounce the name right, saying "Zeus" instead of "Seuss."
- Darker and Edgier: Compared to Out of Time and even all of their prior work, the songs on Automatic for the People are decidedly more dour and introspective.
- Driven to Suicide: "Try Not to Breathe" may or may not be about this.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: Right before the second chorus of "Ignoreland", Michael is singing "I'm just profoundly frustrated by all this, so fuck you, man!" and in the instrumental transition towards the chorus is also heard mumbling "fuck 'em!". It's nowhere near as indecipherable as some of their more famous examples, but the processed vocals still can make it easy to go through the song and miss it.
- Gratuitous Panning: The main guitar line of "New Orleans Instrumental No. 1" is panned entirely to one side. There's also a weird, mechanical, tribal percussion part in "Monty Got a Raw Deal" panned entirely to one side. It's only really audible if you're listening carefully, though.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Yep, they did it again on the vinyl version, despite the format having rapidly fallen from mass popularity at this point. This time around, the sides are labeled "Drive Side" and "Ride Side". The labeling also extends to cassette releases of the album, so technically speaking the band managed to break the practice out from being associated with a dormant format.
- Indecipherable Lyrics: Good luck understanding the chorus to "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite", since Stipe manages to compress the entire sentence into one second.Callmewhenytrytawake her up!
- Intercourse with You: "
FuckStar Me Kitten".
- Instrumentals: "New Orleans Instrumental No. 1".
- Ironic Nursery Tune: "Drive."
- "Just Joking" Justification: From "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite":Tell her she can kiss my ass
Then laugh and say that you were only kidding
That way she'll know that it's really really really really me, me
- Lampshade Hanging: The final verse of the anti-Reagan Protest Song "Ignoreland" includes the lines "I know that this is vitriol, no solution, spleen-venting/But I feel better having screamed, don't you?"
- Lonely Piano Piece: "Nightswimming".
- Lyrical Dissonance: "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite." It seems like a fun song, but it's actually about dying in your sleep. Or suicide, depending on who you ask.
- New Sound Album: Acoustic rock with string backings and an overall dour tone. Incidentally, the shift in sound parallel's that of 10,000 Maniacs' similarly soft and sour sound on Our Time in Eden, released just six days before this album; given that R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs were closely affiliated, the parallels seem to be the result of the two bands once again influencing each another.
- Non-Appearing Title: "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite", though it comes close twice.
- Nothing Left to Do but Die: "Try Not to Breathe" appears to be written from the perspective of someone in this frame of mind.
- Pep-Talk Song: Mike Mills said that the message of "Drive" was for kids to take charge of their own lives.
- Precision F-Strike: "Star Me Kitten" and "Ignoreland" both drop the F-bomb.
- Protest Song: "Ignoreland", a humongous Take That! at the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations (the latter of which was seeking reelection when the song came out).
- Rearrange the Song: The live version of "Try Not to Breathe" is somewhat faster and heavier, sounding more desperate and pained than the already-haunting studio version.
- "Drive" also sounded notably different live — the studio version is again haunting and acoustic-based, whereas the live version they played at the time was faster, set to a funk rhythm, and featured distorted guitar. In later performances, they went back to approximating the studio arrangement though.
- Retraux: The album seems to be designed as if it was released ten years before it actually was.
- The Deliberately Monochrome cover, consisting of a gritty, stylized photograph and stark white text, seems evocative of the style of album art that was popular for Alternative Rock artists in the 1980's (particularly acts like The Smiths, 10,000 Maniacs, and R.E.M. themselves).
- The spines on the album packaging mimic the style of CD releases from Warner Music Group-affiliated labels in the 1980's, with centered, taller-than-wide, plain white text on a black background.
- The more subdued, acoustic sound mixed with string arrangements evokes the roots rock style of groups like Dire Straits that was still popular in the early 80's, as evidenced by the success of albums like Making Movies (1980) and Love Over Gold (1982) during that time.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: How the video for "Everybody Hurts" ends. Everyone in the traffic jam just get out of their cars and leave. A stinger shows a traffic reporter lamenting the scene.
- Sequel Song: "New Orleans Instrumental No. 2", a B-side of "Man on the Moon", to "New Orleans Instrumental No. 1".
- "Man on the Moon" was written in memory of Andy Kaufman (and became so associated with him that... well, see Titled After the Song below).
- "Automatic for the people" is the slogan of Athens, GA eatery Weaver D's Delicious Fine Foods, which the band are fans of.
- David Essex's "Rock On" is quoted in "Drive".
- Skinny Dipping: The subject of "Nightswimming".
- Talk About the Weather: "Find The River" is most hardcore fans' favorite REM song for this reason. The song seems to be the last words of a dying person who is at peace with their life and is telling their relatives not to worry. The music fits this, not being sad but being wistful and bittersweet. Essentially then the song is relaxing with a hint of melancholy, but is a tearjerker because it's so beautiful.
- Titled After the Song: "Man on the Moon" not only became the title of, and was used in, an Andy Kaufman Biopic, but R.E.M. provided the movie's instrumental underscore and a new song, "The Great Beyond".
- Unusual Euphemism: "Star Me Kitten"
- You Are Not Alone: "Everybody Hurts."So if you feel like you're alone... No. No. No. You are not alone.
- You Make Me Sic: "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite".