R.E.M.: 
Automatic For The People (25th Anniversary Reissue)

R.E.M.

Automatic For The People (25th Anniversary Reissue)
(Craft Recordings)
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Every music fan has a list of favorite albums — the ones we still sing or cry or dance to decades after we first fell in love. But when we start considering which ones deserve desert-island status, it gets trickier — except for R.E.M. fans. Plenty of us would swear we couldn’t survive without Automatic For The People.

Twenty-five years after its 1992 release, it still stands as a stunning work of art. Not only does it capture a band at their creative peak, it offers new insights regarding how they got there. No mere repackaging of old material and vault scrapings, the four-disc edition contains Live At The 40 Watt Club, 13 tracks recorded on their Athens, Georgia home turf and 20 previously unheard demos with charming surprises like “Mike’s Pop Song,” a rare showcase for his voice and ’60s pop sensibilities, and the long-rumored, but not heard, “lost” song, “Devil Rides Backwards.” A Blu-ray disc contains Automatic in hi-res audio and remastered in Dolby Atmos, a new surround-sound technology getting its first commercial release here, along with seven videos, one a never-released R-rated version of the beautifully impressionistic “Nightswimming” video.

But the biggest thrill lies within those original 12 songs, each melody more gorgeous than the last, each lyric somehow balanced perfectly between nonsensical playfulness and arresting brilliance. Peter Buck’s searing, sinister guitar break on “Drive”; Mike Mills’ piano on “Nightswimming”; Michael Stipe’s keening on “Try Not To Breathe” and laughter on “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite”; Bill Berry’s percussion on “Man On The Moon”; John Paul Jones’ orchestral string arrangements on “Everybody Hurts” …  all resonate just as much today as they did then.

Not many albums still stop you in your tracks after 25 years of listening. This one does. It’s a pure masterpiece, from beginning to end.