Anybody who took a peek at notable releases from 1992 won’t be surprised to see R.E.M.’s Automatic For the People at the top of my list of that year’s best new music. This is arguably the best album by one of my very favorite bands.
It also framed the summer I met my wife and became the unofficial soundtrack to our budding romance, so it has that going for it.
Best Albums of the 90s – #4
Automatic For the People – R.E.M. (1992)
R.E.M.’s Automatic For the People earns its high spot on this list for a couple of reasons.
First, the obvious: it is the richest, most rewarding album recorded by one of the all-time great alternative bands. R.E.M. put out a lot of great music in the mid- to late-90s right through to their final album a year ago, but nothing that approached the majesty of this record. And the only earlier album in the band’s discography that I’d put on this level is Fables of the Reconstruction.
Out of Time was an unlikely hit album, but its follow-up was even more of a surprise. 1992’s Automatic For the People is a somber, murky meditation on death that happened to go quadruple platinum.
It’s a testament to R.E.M.’s integrity that their two most commercially popular albums were also two of their more experimental.
Automatic For the People is a particularly gorgeous record, all cellos and distorted bass lines, Stipe’s mumbled vocals processed into a low grumble on some tracks and allowed to soar on others. I rank this album just below Fables of the Reconstruction as the band’s best work.
R.E.M. unquestionably reached their commercial peak with Out of Time, but I’d argue that they reached their artistic pinnacle on their following album, 1992’s Automatic For the People.
Though the band initially planned to follow Out of Time with an album of hard rockers, they instead wound up producing a collection of dark, moody songs about death and uncertainty. This is a fine example of a collective artistic muse at work… despite their intentions, the music on Automatic For the People simply found its way out.
‘Ignoreland’ is the one broadly up-tempo song on the album and, not coincidentally, it’s the worst track here. In fact, though I like the song well enough, I’d say it’s pretty much the one thing that keeps this album from being perfect.