REM – Automatic for the People 25

This is the latest in that ever-popular long-running series known as “let’s make Les feel really old”. Yes, it’s a whole quarter of a century since REM released this magnificent album. I’d enjoyed their earlier work, particularly Fall on Me and Losing My Religion, but this took things to a new level, with some of their greatest songs, all beautifully arranged and produced to something approaching perfection. If later albums weren’t quite so powerful, so impressive, so bloody good, well, that scarcely matters, because not that many albums by anyone are quite as good as Automatic.

There’s bounciness and bonkersness[1] in Man on the Moon, retrospective wistfulness in Try Not to Breathe, and much, much more. It might be a bit of an obvious choice, but I have to single out Everybody Hurts as the album’s greatest moment. Dealing with sorrow, despair and more, but uplifting, hopeful, and quite honestly beautiful. The video always stuck in my mind – loads of people stuck in traffic, and we see their innermost thoughts a subtitles while the music and Michael’s voice offer light in their darkness. Glorious. One of those rare moments where popular music is more than the sum of its parts, and where I’m even tempted to dust off words such as “transcendent”. But don’t worry, I won’t make a habit of it.

The 25th anniversary edition is available in a variety of collectable editions at prices ranging from “not bad” to eye-watering. I used my Apple Music sub to get the equivalent of the thee-CD edition, which includes the remastered album, a live performance featuring most of the album plus earlier songs such as Losing My Religion, Fall on Me and Radio Free Europe, and a selection of demos and early versions of songs from the album, including Michael’s Organ, recognisable as Everybody Hurts.

The original album still stands as a wonderful piece of work, and the extras are well worth a listen or six.

[1] Yes it is a word, so there

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