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I’ll write about every R.E.M. song, eventually.
October 16, 2007 7:57 AM   Subscribe

Pop Songs 07 is a blog by Matthew Perpetua, founder of Fluxblog, in which he is attempting to write about every R.E.M. song eventually. With the recent release of Stereogum’s tribute to Automatic For The People, Drive XV, (free mp3s of covers of every track on the record by a range of indie rock acts) he was asked to write an essay about the album: Sweetness Followed: 15 Years After Automatic.
posted by ND¢ (53 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
God, I love that album. I wrote somewhere on the internet about Automatic being my "musical first kiss," i.e., not my first album, but the first I really listened to and appreciated for its complexity as opposed to something I bought because my friends liked it or the band had a cool video. I'm not the world's biggest R.E.M. fan, but I'll always cherish them for chaperoning me into the realm of Real Music.

Fifteen years? Jesus Christ.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 8:10 AM on October 16, 2007


this is one of those "umm... why?" moments.
posted by noriyori at 8:11 AM on October 16, 2007


I was going to blog this!

Perpetua's mini-essays are great and all R.E.M. fans are likely to enjoy them. R.E.M., like the Pixies, never had real descendents, and I think the greatness of the IRS albums is something that's recognized but not much thought about. So it's good to think about them!

The Automatic tribute is a bit meh, but partly that's because the source material is a bit meh. AFTP is drastically weaker than every album before it and most every album after it, so it seems a strange choice. Does anybody really need to hear "Drive" or "Everybody Hurts" again, or, goodness gracious, "Ignoreland?" Now if they'd done Document XX, I'd have been on board.
posted by escabeche at 8:11 AM on October 16, 2007


Pop Songs 07 really is a great blog. Perpetua is a great writer. However, I think that Wrens version of "Nightswimming" off Drive XV is the biggest piece of shit I've ever heard.
posted by sleepy pete at 8:20 AM on October 16, 2007


I was in my teens when Automatic came out and I was a member of the BMG music club where they would send you 15 CDs for a penny but then you had to buy a certain amount. I had gotten all my free CDs and had bought all but one of the ones that I had to buy, and I was sick of being in the club, because they kept sending me CDs that I would have to then send back, because I forgot to check the right box or something. So, Automatic for the People comes as one of their featured CDs of the week, and I have no interest in it whatsoever, but I was just like "I will just keep it and pay for it and get this over with." So I did and I listened to it and then listened to it again and again and again, and it became one of my favorite albums and R.E.M. became one of my favorite bands. I think that Automatic was like that for a lot of people my age. An introduction to a great band and a wider world of music. It may not have been their best album, or even really that great of an album, but I think that it holds a special place in a lot of peoples' hearts nonetheless.
posted by ND¢ at 8:23 AM on October 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


I liked R.E.M. for a little while, but then went to college in Athens (about the time Automatic came out) and ended up with a roommate who played R.E.M. to the exclusion of all other music, over and over and over...

Well that's not true - he occasionally played Drivin' and Cryin' and Vic Chesnutt. But that quarter pretty much turned me off R.E.M. for good.

Still, I'll give them their props.
posted by jquinby at 8:30 AM on October 16, 2007


I grew up listening to R.E.M. I had all their albums from Chronic Town to Green , and I can remember walking to the local record store to buy Automatic, I was about 14.
They were the first band I really "got" and I still have those records , even though I can't remember the last time I dropped a needle on any of them. I think I'll go listen to Harbor Coat. The first time I heard them I think it was Orange Crush the b side of green.
posted by nola at 8:46 AM on October 16, 2007


Huh , that's funny jquinby a friend of mine just borrowed me a Vic Chesnutt record.
posted by nola at 8:49 AM on October 16, 2007


Fifteen years? Jesus Christ.

+.
posted by louie at 8:52 AM on October 16, 2007


The Automatic tribute reminds me too much of Surprise Your Pig.

The Automatic tribute is a bit meh, but partly that's because the source material is a bit meh. AFTP is drastically weaker than every album before it and most every album after it, so it seems a strange choice. Does anybody really need to hear "Drive" or "Everybody Hurts" again, or, goodness gracious, "Ignoreland?" Now if they'd done Document XX, I'd have been on board.

I totally disagree. Document always felt like an odd fit to me, like it was Life's Rich Pageant II. "Turn You Inside Out" is just as unlistenable as "Ignoreland."

AFTP was REM's crowning achievement, where they finally got the sound right, hit the right measure of Stipean lyrical incomprehensibility, and actually sounded like they could craft a lasting pop song. Sadly, it wasn't "Man On The Moon" that got the airplay, but "Everybody Hurts," which I skipped over after play #1 in 1992 and will skip over again today. (The biggest problem with the tribute was that every frikkin' band decided to do "Everybody Hurts.")

After AFTP, it really was straight downhill. Monster was awful. Hi-Fi had its moments, but everything since then sounded like they're opening on the Starbucks Music Yuppies and Dinks Love tour.

And personally, give me Reckoning XXV. And I want And get off my lawn.
posted by dw at 8:58 AM on October 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


After Document, it really was straight downhill. Green was awful. Everything since then sounded like they're opening on the Starbucks Music Yuppies and Dinks Love tour.

Fixed that for you.
posted by eyeballkid at 9:06 AM on October 16, 2007


I would probably put Life's Rich Pageant as one of the top 10 rock albums of all time. This isn't lost on Stipe and co. either. As far as I know, they still open every concert with Begin the Begin.

AFTP had it's moments, and I would have to say that Nightswimming might be my favorite R.E.M. song. But it's an an uneven album. Sidewinder Sleeps is annoying (though I love singing it with the chorus the way I initially misheard it, "Counting Jawbreakers...Counting Jawbreakers").

Everybody Hurts is such an insipid piece of garbage though, I think that song alone precludes it from any "this is the best album" discussion.
posted by mcstayinskool at 9:15 AM on October 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Everything they've done since Chronic Town has been a big disappointment blah blah blah

This is really the sign of a great band - they can be divided up into eras (IRS/Warner/losingmyreligion/Post-Bill) and have their fans compete to determine how early in their career they started to go downhill.
posted by Adam_S at 9:15 AM on October 16, 2007


I've listened to an incredible amount of music since I first started buying records as a 10 year old in 1972. I've owned thousands of LPs, CD's, cassettes and MP3s over the years. Everything from Merzbow to Arvo Part. I'm not a casual music fan. "Automatic for the People" is my favorite album ever.
posted by davebush at 9:20 AM on October 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


REMember when they used to play secret shows as "Bingo Handjob", and I tried hard to find recordings of these, but I had no idea that "handjob" meant anything? Yeah.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:25 AM on October 16, 2007


Automatic was my first album too, and remains my favourite. I can remember listening to it for the first time, splitting earbuds on a walkman in the back of a friends car, and even the flavour of gum I was chewing when I first looked at the liner notes.

Part of my "these kids today and their music" cynicism stems from the fact that I can't imagine having that same experience with, say, Fall Out Boy.
posted by Adam_S at 9:33 AM on October 16, 2007


Perpetua's blog is fun to read, but he definitely has that old-school REM bias that i find hard to understand.

I understand that some people are going to love Murmur and Reckoning more than any other REM records because they discovered them during college when they first started getting stoned and they had, so much, like, MEANING, man.

...but still, for a latecomer like me, it's incomprehensible to worship "Good Advices" and "Wendell Gee" while scoffing at "Leaving New York" and "Imitation of Life."

/still loves Everybody Hurts
posted by ELF Radio at 9:33 AM on October 16, 2007


I used to lie in my bed, on top of the covers, draw the shades and just listed ton Automatic for the People over and over again. I don't think I could do that anymore. I love a lot of R.E.M. albums, in fact, my favorite tends to shift around. Currently it's Up.

also loves Everybody Hurts... suck it hat0rZ
posted by Kattullus at 9:47 AM on October 16, 2007


After the Hib-Tone version of Radio Free Europe, it really was straight downhill, et al.
posted by turaho at 9:50 AM on October 16, 2007


for a latecomer like me, it's incomprehensible to worship "Good Advices" and "Wendell Gee" while scoffing at "Leaving New York" and "Imitation of Life."

Oh dear god, I've never had to say this before but GET OFF MY FREAKING LAWN.

*cries, puts on Fables*
posted by turaho at 9:51 AM on October 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


Automatic came out during my first year of college, so I've got a lot of nostalgic memories in those songs.

Except for Everybody Hurts... commercial radio ran that damn thing into the ground and now it's like fingers on a chalkboard.

I think it's a pretty good album, especially when compared with Monstrosity, which just sounded like everything else that was out at that time.
posted by BobFrapples at 9:53 AM on October 16, 2007


I'm not interested in anything they did after "Out of Time".

And I really liked that first Fall Out Boy record.
posted by padraigin at 9:59 AM on October 16, 2007


The dBs, the Smithereens, and Five Eight were all better bands.

*drops trou, shits in thread, leaves, cackling gleefully*
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:08 AM on October 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Smithereens only had one song. Give me a break.

(Okay, several songs. But only one tune.)
posted by padraigin at 10:14 AM on October 16, 2007


I got into REM with Green - and in fact, in many, ways, that album is what got me into music period. AFTP came out during my freshman year in college, and it took a few listens to realize how much I liked it. Even now, with my music tastes having changed completely (I'm much more into EBM/industrial/goth stuff), AFTP remains one of top 5 albums. Life's Rich Pageant is easily a close second... and I agree that AFTP was both their best moment and where things went downhill. Monster has only a few good bits to it, and the rest afterwards are just forgettable.
posted by evilangela at 10:21 AM on October 16, 2007


Fifteen years? Eek.

I remember sitting in Blue Sky and hearing OK Computer not long after it appeared, and that's ten years ago. There are parallels there: five years from 'Ignoreland' to 'Electioneering', for one.

Count me among those who had it on endless repeat. But I'm not sure AFTP has aged so well. I'll go so far as to say that New Adventures In Hi-Fi hasn't aged as much -- though it's overlong and you can skip a third of the tracks -- and that's eleven years old.

But that might be because we're not where we were fifteen years ago. Damn, it came out when Clinton was running against Daddy Bush and John Major had just crept back into power. I'll take 'Try Not To Breathe' and 'Sweetness Follows' from it right now, and steer clear from the rest, thought the cover tribute treatment is welcome for one big reason: it gets over some of the familiarity that engenders my reluctance to re-engage with the songs.
posted by holgate at 10:33 AM on October 16, 2007


REM is the band that I can't dissociate from the vertiginous feeling of falling into love for the first time - long saturdays spent indoors, disoriented by any others than we two. Walks, a waterbed.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:47 AM on October 16, 2007


In my head, I'm singing Unseen Power of the Picket Fence by Pavement.

Time After Time!
Was my least favorite song!
Time after time was my least favorite song!


Songs about R.E.M. are so 1993.

Come to think of it, it's even older than that. Didn't Descendents have a thing about R.E.M. on Liveage?
posted by The World Famous at 11:08 AM on October 16, 2007


Thanks for the great link. REM was my first love and OH! how did I love them. I was a major fanboy.

If you can relate, you might enjoy this musing: A Precocious Young Man Schemes with His (long lost) Platonic Soulmate, Meets His Idol, and Reflects on It All Twenty Years Later.
posted by donovan at 11:23 AM on October 16, 2007 [5 favorites]


this is one of those "umm... why?" moments.

Something to consider hitting "Post Comment".

...but still, for a latecomer like me, it's incomprehensible to worship "Good Advices" and "Wendell Gee" while scoffing at "Leaving New York" and "Imitation of Life."

*faints*

unknowncommand- I have the BHJ @ Borderline show. Contact me via my profile and I'll hook you up.
posted by mkultra at 11:25 AM on October 16, 2007


Forget the great musical content, the translucent yellow cassette was enough to make AFTP the coolest tape in my (admittedly small) collection.

Chalk me up as another 14/15-year-old who bought the album when it came out and now can't evoke memories of that period without hearing these songs play in the background.

Oh, and most of these cover versions are pretty bad. A few are brilliantly enjoyable, however.
posted by wabashbdw at 11:26 AM on October 16, 2007


I think we can all agree that R.E.M.'s albums only got worse after Automatic. Can anyone honestly say there's a album after AFTP which they like better than any album before it?
Unfortunately, I own Monster, Hi-Fi, Up, and Reveal on CD. In retrospect, I chalk up those purchases to brand loyalty- buying four crappy CDs from a band which gave me eight great albums isn't such a bad ratio:

Murmur
Reckoning
Fables of the Reconstruction
Life's Rich Pageant
(my favorite)
Document
Green
Out of Time
Automatic for the People
Monster
New Adventures in Hi-Fi
Up
Reveal
Around The Sun

posted by Lord Kinbote at 11:39 AM on October 16, 2007


Love AFTP, but think there are some definite clunkers on there.

Skipped from day one: "Drive", "Everybody Hurts", "Ignoreland" (tho I later grew to kinda dig "Ignoreland."

AFTP is all about Side Two.


P.S. Up is truly the undiscovered (if flawed) gem in the R.E.M. catalogue, even if I think LRP is the best R.E.M. era.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:41 AM on October 16, 2007


REMember when they used to play secret shows as "Bingo Handjob", and I tried hard to find recordings of these, but I had no idea that "handjob" meant anything? Yeah.

About half of the BHJ show was strewn across the "Collector's Edition" UK singles for Out Of Time. If you can still find them. I had mine stolen eons ago.
posted by dw at 11:42 AM on October 16, 2007


Everyone go read this story:

http://www.metafilter.com/65595/I’ll-write-about-every-REM-song-eventually#1875172
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:47 AM on October 16, 2007


They really should've gone with the Mutual Drum Horn Mix of "Finest Worksong."

I've always thought of Out of Time as almost Green II, from the rocking, self-aware opener ("Pop Song 89"/"Radio Song") to the prominent acoustic instruments to the dippy pop hit ("Stand"/"Shiny Happy People") to the brooding revelation ("World Leader Pretend"/"Losing My Religion"). "Losing My Religion" was supposedly Michael Stipe's "opening up" song, but "World Leader Pretend" revealed more.

Document's got some great songs, but it's also got snoozers like "Strange," "Fireplace," "Lightnin' Hopkins," and "Oddfellows Local 151." I like saying "exuding malarkey" or "eluding my car keys" instead of "Exhuming McCarthy."
posted by kirkaracha at 12:02 PM on October 16, 2007


You didnt like "Fireplace"?

Even when the sax (surely out of place in an REM song, but still rad) kicks in?
posted by Senor Cardgage at 12:21 PM on October 16, 2007


It's wrong to judge any album based on the band's back catalog. I think there's a ton of really good records that get dismissed unfairly for this reason. I maintain that "Up" would have drawn absolute raves if it was some band's out-of-nowhere debut.
posted by davebush at 12:51 PM on October 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


The first REM album that I truly didn't like at all was the most recent one whose name escapes me. In fact, I dislike it enough not to look it up. It had "Leaving New York" on it.

The other post-Bill Berry albums all had their moments. I liked "Monster" and "New Adventures in Hi-Fi" quite a bit.

Of course, I've been listening to them since "Chronic Town" and, thus, have endured years of people telling me that every single one of their albums was worse than the one before it, so it could be that I'm just stubbornly refusing to give up on them.

Anyhow, late period REM gems include "At My most Beautiful," "Suspicion," "The apologist," "Walk Unafraid," "Diminished," "Lotus," "She Just Wants To Be," "Imitiation of Life," "Leave" and "Binky the Doormat." I'll even put in a good word for "E Bow The Letter."
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:54 PM on October 16, 2007


On my ipod I have:

Murmur
Reckoning
Fables of the Reconstruction
Life's Rich Pageant
Document
Green
Out of Time
Automatic for the People
New Adventures in Hi-Fi

I can put this collection on Artist>All>Shuffle and pretty much never have the urge to skip a song.

I discovered REM when Life's Rich Pageant Came out. I was 17 and Living in Atlanta at the time, and there is no other album that resonates as strongly with a specific time and place in my life as that one does.
posted by billyfleetwood at 12:54 PM on October 16, 2007 [1 favorite]


Though my first comment might have sounded kind of "get off my lawn!" let me emphasize that I agree with later posters about the many good tracks on later R.E.M. albums. Every time I go to the $3 CD shop on State Street I see a couple dozen copies of Monster and it makes me sad -- I'd rather hear "What's the Frequency Kenneth?" or "Strange Currencies" again than anything from AFTP. Ditto "Undertow," "Sad Professor," quite a few others.

Now to stick up for AFTP: "Sweetness Follows" holds up, and would have fit well on "Out of Time."
posted by escabeche at 1:10 PM on October 16, 2007


Thanks for the great link. REM was my first love and OH! how did I love them. I was a major fanboy.

If you can relate, you might enjoy this musing: A Precocious Young Man Schemes with His (long lost) Platonic Soulmate, Meets His Idol, and Reflects on It All Twenty Years Later.


I'm happy I made it this far into the thread, so that I could read this. Wonderful.
posted by jokeefe at 1:18 PM on October 16, 2007


I maintain that "Up" would have drawn absolute raves if it was some band's out-of-nowhere debut.

Here here.

It's also a million times better than that year's over-praised "masterpiece" from Neutral Milk Hotel (you know the one)
I guarantee that ITAOTS would be much less fondly remembered had NMH existed long enough to keep remaking the exact same record again-and-again, which they almost certainly would have.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 1:30 PM on October 16, 2007


Well that's not true - he occasionally played Drivin' and Cryin' and Vic Chesnutt. But that quarter pretty much turned me off R.E.M. for good.

Dude, that's what you get for going to school in Athens. When I was there, everyone was obsessed with Drive By Truckers, Widespread Panic, and the "Official" DMB cover band. I'd take REM and D&C over them any day.
posted by jmd82 at 2:56 PM on October 16, 2007


Hey now, let's not speak ill of the DBTs
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:01 PM on October 16, 2007


I find it baffling that there's so much overlap in the DBT/Widespread Panic audience. DBT is not and has never been a "jam band". They're about thinkin' and drinkin', not dosin' and twirlin'. I just don't get it. For chrissakes, they often encore with a Jim Carroll song!

And I'll grant you REM, but Drivin' and Cryin'? Fly Me Fucking Courageous? You, sir, are smoking crack.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:35 PM on October 16, 2007 [2 favorites]


REM ceased being relevant to me somewhere between Losing My Religion and Man In The Moon but they are for me what The Beach Boys were for most baby boomers, and what Glenn Miller was for my parents (the Silent Generation).

Whenever I hear an REM song, it makes me smile and reminds me of times that I like to pretend were happier days. Except for Smiling Happy People. That one just makes me wanna punch somebody.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:39 PM on October 16, 2007


Ok so I RARELY post here on Metafilter (just prefer lurking and musing on everyone else's musings) but I since, well , I am kinda defined by anyone who knows me as an ultimate REM fan, I figured I kinda had to come into the light and give my 2 cents worth.

Pageant is my fav album and Green my least fav. FYI

Having been a fan since Murmur, one of the primary reasons I have always enjoyed REM was that they were so vague and open to interpretation. Many a night with friends has been spent interpreting those mumbled and mixed lyrics. Anyone remember how they felt when the lyrics were put on the internet? I felt a part of their vagueness was lost, but also that I had kindred spirits in REM fanland. So while I may not agree with what a great deal of what Perpetua has to say, I also say each to his own.

I have found it both sad and refreshing to have seen that the last three shows I have attended (all in Atlanta) have had a serious drop in attendance. Having to scour bootleg copies of a good share of their music until at least Green, I wish I could have seen them in Athens at the 40 Watt back when they were first coming "up." So sigh yes I still love them and though not every song is my ultimate favorite, I can honestly say I can appreciate each one for its uniqueness.

Long live REM!!!!!

::stepping off platform and back into my corner::
posted by username68 at 6:12 PM on October 16, 2007


mkultra, your contact info is not in your profile? mine is in mine though.
posted by unknowncommand at 7:53 PM on October 16, 2007


I think we can all agree that R.E.M.'s albums only got worse after Automatic. Can anyone honestly say there's a album after AFTP which they like better than any album before it?

Yes! I love Up and Reveal way more than Monster and Hi-Fi, and Around the Sun is damn near my favorite REM record of all time. I don't know why people don't like it...

It's ( Up) also a million times better than that year's over-praised "masterpiece" from Neutral Milk Hotel (you know the one).

Thank you for saying that. Everyone i know cums all over that record, and it's one of the worst pieces of unlistenable shat that i've ever heard. It's the aural equivalent of an unwashed busker jamming his fingers deep into his asshole and then showing them in your ears.
posted by ELF Radio at 9:07 PM on October 16, 2007


mkultra, your contact info is not in your profile? mine is in mine though.

FYI, no it's not.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 4:04 AM on October 17, 2007


Excellent point.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:25 AM on October 17, 2007


It's the aural equivalent of an unwashed busker jamming his fingers deep into his asshole and then showing them in your ears.

GET OFF MY FREAKING LAWN AND TAKE YOUR AOR-PABLUM WITH YOU.
posted by turaho at 2:18 PM on October 17, 2007


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