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review added: 2/7/03

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R.E.M.: Automatic for the People
1992 (2003) - Warner Music (Rhino)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

DVD-AudioStereo/Multi-ChannelMeridian Lossless Packing CompressionDVD-Video compatible Dolby DigitalDVD-Video compatible DTS

R.E.M.: Automatic for the People (DVD-Audio) Album Rating: A

Audio Ratings (DVD-A 5.1/2.0): B-/B+

Extras Rating: C+ (see specs below)

Specs and Features

49 mins, single-sided, single-layered, super jewel case packaging, 1992 EPK album release documentary (16 mins), song lyrics during playback, photo gallery (19 unseen images from Anton Corbijn’s original album photo sessions), band discography, DVD-ROM weblink, liner notes insert booklet, album-themed menu screens, track access (12 tracks - see track listing below), audio formats: DVD-A 5.1 & 2.0 (48/24), DD 5.1 & 2.0, DTS 5.1

Produced by Scott Litt & R.E.M.
5.1 Mastering by Darcy Proper at Sony Studios

Michael Stipe (vocals), Mike Mills (vocals, keyboards, bass), Michael Stipe (vocals), Peter Buck (guitar, mandolin), Bill Berry (drums)



For the members of R.E.M., following up on their wildly successful Out of Time album presented more than a significant challenge. That album featured such a catchy and optimistic set of tracks (Shiny Happy People anyone?) that there was seemingly no further emotional headroom left to explore. So instead, the band took a significant risk and shifted gears toward the opposite end of the spectrum. The resulting release, Automatic for the People, was not only more subdued, it was also tremendously more satisfying.

Over the set of 12 songs contained on Automatic for the People, R.E.M. delves unflinchingly into issues of loneliness, loss, regret and yearning, all the while weaving a lean and yet incredibly rich musical tapestry. Michael Stipe's vocals lend a striking note of melancholy to the driving hooks of Ignoreland, while giving the even the darkest passages a haunting sense of scope and depth. The most recognized offering on the album is, of course, Man on the Moon, the band's tribute to Andy Kaufman. But easily the best of the lot is Nightswimming, an enchanting and evocative ode to the lingering sensations of memory.

This new DVD-Audio version of Automatic for the People includes a wide variety of audio options. When you put the disc in your player, you'll be able to select from 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround options. If you have a DVD-Audio player, both of those options will appear in "advanced resolution" by default. On the other hand, if you have a standard DVD-Video player, you'll be able to choose between Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, DTS 5.1 surround and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. While the plethora of audio formats may seem like overkill, it ensures compatibility with virtually any player/audio system combination available (save for a standard CD player).

The advanced resolution 5.1 and 2.0 sound is clearly the preferred way to listen to this disc. Spatially, the multi-channel mix is good. The surround use isn't always subtle, but it's generally in keeping with the spirit of each song. The effect is often not just to widen out the soundstage, but to quite literally surround you with it. As I expected, I definitely prefer the familiar stereo mix, where the added clarity of high-resolution is much appreciated. But in both cases, the soundfield is typically smooth and rich, with an organic (if occasionally a bit too bright) musical quality. I'm not going to review the Dolby Digital or DTS mixes here. Suffice it to say that while neither option holds a candle to the advanced resolution you'll hear with a true DVD-Audio player, both are still quite adequate.

In terms of extras, there are a few nice treats here for fans. First up is the original EPK documentary that was designed to promote the release of the album. It runs 16 minutes and features interviews and commentary by the band members. There's a photo gallery with unseen images from Anton Corbijn's original photo sessions for the album cover. And you also get a complete band discography, along with a look at Michael Stipe's original typed and handwritten lyrics (which can be viewed as an option during song playback). Finally, there's a booklet that reproduces the original CD insert, complete with artwork and additional liner notes.

Automatic for the People easily ranks among the best of R.E.M.'s extensive catalog. It's a complex and lustrous exploration of some of the toughest truths of life. And yet throughout the album, hopeful optimism never abandons the band... or the listener. It's musically gorgeous and absolutely essential for fans.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


Track Listing:

Drive
Try Not to Breathe
The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite
Everybody Hurts
New Orleans Instrumental No.1
Sweetness Follows
Monty Got a Raw Deal
Ignoreland
Star Me Kitten
Man on the Moon
Nightswimming
Find the River


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