Automatic for the People (25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) (Craft)
Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., Dec. 8, 2017
As definitive as Automatic for the People became, it's difficult to reassert how dramatic a statement the LP was for R.E.M. in 1992. The previous year's Out of Time signaled a mellower direction but still wore a pop shine. Both were upended by Nirvana.
Having graduated from raw college rock to mainstream success, the Athens, Ga., quartet felt fame's fickle grip, frontman Michael Stipe unable to eschew the spotlight amid increasing rumors of illness. Automatic's melancholic tone and mortality-wrenched focus thus struck a new vein of vulnerability, with "Nightswimming," "Man on the Moon," and especially "Everybody Hurts" extending consolation and embrace amid isolation and angst. The songs' power remains undiminished after 25 years.
Unfortunately, the 4-CD deluxe reissue doesn't offer much that accentuates beyond the original.
Fans can devour the robust book of Anton Corbijn and Melodie McDaniel's photos, and a live recording from the band's hometown 40 Watt Club in November 1992 (their only show that year) courses with raw emotion. Stipe spits "Drive" against Peter Buck's biting guitar shots, while the crowd cheers the chorus to "Everybody Hurts." The demos disc then contrasts poorly as the singer hums, howls, and moans his way toward lyrics in early versions of the songs. An unfinished "Devil Rides Backwards" echoes "Man on the Moon."
Blu-ray of music videos, press kit, and Dolby mix strikes purely superfluous. While the album remains immaculate, and the live show a vital document, less doesn't mean more for its reissue.