Sixteen years ago this week, R.E.M. delivered Automatic For The People. Expanding upon the country-tinged rock of its predecessor, 1991′s Out Of Time, the group’s eighth disc was markedly more somber in tone. Excepting a few upbeat-by-comparison tracks like “Man In The Moon” and “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight,” Automatic For The People is a contemplative collection of songs perfectly suited to the season in which it first arrived.
A college sophomore when Automatic was issued, I picked up the CD on its day of release, October 6, 1992. For a long time afterward, it enjoyed frequent residency on my Discman (!) as I walked to and from classes. And I vividly recall listening to it one Saturday morning in that same period as I enjoyed a quiet walk through the leaf-littered woods on campus. I refuse to play favorites because Automatic is truly an album worth listening to from beginning to end, but “Sweetness Follows” is particularly beautiful.
The album’s opener, “Drive,” served as the first single. Steady in its simplicity, “Drive” was a curious choice; the band distanced itself from pop conventions on the track (while including a noteworthy lyrical echo back to David Essex’s 1974 hit, “Rock On”). Still, “Drive” managed to hit #28 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was a #1 Modern Rock hit. Turning crowd surfing on its head, the video nabbed some eyeballs, too:
“Drive” was R.E.M.’s highest charting Hot 100 entry off Automatic For The People. I would have thought “Everybody Hurts” had done better, but it topped out at #29.
If Automatic isn’t in your collection or you haven’t listened to it in a while, there’s no better time to revisit R.E.M.’s autumnal masterpiece.