Tuesday, 7 December 2010

'The photograph on the dashboard' by @diaryofaledger

Automatic for the People by REM isn't a typical GC album to love.  I guess, listening to it now, it's almost a precursor to where Coldplay ended up.  Just way better than that.

It's nearly twenty years old.  Eighteen to precise.  Fuck. Me.  How?

It still sounds absolutely fresh though, although it's hard to think of why I felt such a strong attachment to it at the time.  R.E.M were one of my favourite bands, although as per usual I did them backwards: from Out of Time, working my way through there back catalogue after falling in love with Losing My Religion.  Out of Time broke them as a big band, rivals to U2 as the biggest band in the world for a while, and Automatic cemented that.

Remember the first time you heard Everybody Hurts, before it became their signature and an X-Factor regular?  Remember that brilliant video on the highway overpass?  Remember when it wasn't played to with an inch of its life?  I saw them play it live once at the Isle of Wight Festival and was moved to tears.  They are, and I suspect, always will be the best live band I've ever seen.  Not the best gig I've ever been to, but the best, most understated, wonderful performance I've ever seen.  Stipe just connecting to thousands with his words.  Put it on now.  Remember that song properly.  Not as the pastiche of itself it has become.  Take it back.

Drive opens the album, a kick at the Bush administration, with it's lovely solemn accoustic guitar.  'Hey kids, rock n' roll, nobody tells you where to go.'  The album is full of stand out lines like that and full of strange moments, that all feel like they have a deeper meaning.

Sweetness Follows totally blows me away still.  Death and grief and release from the pain.  'It's these little things that will pull you under, live your life full of joy and wonder,' it may as well be my mantra.

I chose Michael Stipe as an icon one week and got ripped a virtual new one on Twitter for it.  But it's there in that song why I chose him over all the other, well, all the other 'Michaels'.  That sense of understanding in seemingly impenetrable words.  So yes, you heard it here first, it's a very personal thing, the man made me cry in person.  The bastard.  That's why he's one of my icons.

The album isn't just about Stipe's words though it's about the way it sounds.  Rich and full.  The production is perfect but the playing of the instruments (and many were used) is by men at the top of their craft.

It's an REM album so there has to be a misstep somewhere and Automatic has Ignoreland.  We shall, for the purposes of this post, pretend that it does not.

It does have Man on the Moon though and it's still not easy to listen to without a smile on your face.  Feeling glum?  Put Man on the Moon on.  It'll lift ya.  Promise.  Lovely stuff, it even includes and Elvis impression.

What follows is one of those songs that connects with me with every fibre.  It's probably the song that meant so much to me back in 1992.  Back then it wasn't about the words.  It was about two things I think.  One is that the song just sounds incredible.  Piano and orchestra and Stipe's amazing voice.  The other thing is something that I won't share, again not about the words, just more personal and in some ways just plain strange.  It's still my favourite REM song for all those reasons, the explained and the unexplained.

REM never sounded like this again.  Which is a shame, but to be honest I don't think they could or should have tried.  Apart from that one aberration it's perfect.  Listening to it tonight feels like welcoming an old friend back into the house.  It's a great album for a cold night and nowhere near as down beat as I remembered it being.  Serious yes.  But full of hope inside the sadness of a broken shell.

When bands get big they get stick.  Put aside that for one night, put Automatic for the People on and forgive REM their success for an hour or so and soak it all up.

(Skip Ignoreland though.)

Big thanks to AT for letting me post these weekly on here about some of my favourite albums.  In many ways they are one of the reasons my own site has become so music and 'life' dominated of late and become better for that (I hope).  Cheers bud.

No comments: