100 Greatest Albums of the 90’s: #28

REM – Automatic For The People
For some bizarre reason, (untrue) rumours were circulating at the time that REM frontman Michael Stipe was dying of either AIDS or cancer. Anyone who heard ‘Automatic For The People’ wouldn’t be surprised, as it contains some of the most gorgeous odes to mortality committed to tape. ‘Try Not To Breathe’ speaks for itself; it’s humbling to hear a character at death’s door say “I will try not to burden you” as opposed to any variant on “Why me?”. Even though shuffling off the mortal coil is a common theme, it’s virtually never doom and gloom; it accepts death with open arms, and not in a way that suggests it’s had enough of life. It’s more the fact that it acknowledges that the time has come. Elsewhere it’s giddy and childlike on ‘The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite’ (which actually contains un-ironic yodelling), sombrely amused on ‘Man On The Moon’ (Stipe’s attempt at writing a song with more “yeah”s in than Kurt Cobain – about 65 in all) and spine-tinglingly sentimental, but un-clichéd, on ‘Nightswimming’. Undervalued highlights include ‘Sweetness Follows’ – a poignant portrait of a man burying his parents – and the even more undervalued and understated ‘New Orleans Instrumental No. 1’ – a subtle, beautiful wordless elegy to whatever you like. ‘Automatic For The People’ was found in Kurt Cobain’s CD player when his body was discovered which makes songs like ‘Everybody Hurts’ even more poignant. Even though it’s the most well known song here, it’s also probably the most moving cut and should be used as the hold music on the Samaritans hotline. In fact it’s probably saved more lives than Bono and the Heimlich manoeuvre combined.
Listen to: Man On The Moon

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