Had this song stuck in my head on Tuesday morning. Odd, because I learned that the man responsible for writing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” George David Weiss, had died the night before.
As I thought about it, I looked up Matt Perpetua’s exhaustive Pop Songs ’07-’08 and found this entry for the song. So maybe that’s not the most illuminating piece ever written about an R.E.M. song, but it reminded me that Automatic for the People was such a downer of a record.
I know I’ve said it before elsewhere, but I can’t even try to listen to this absolute pill of a record anymore. Maybe it puts me back in a weird spot, remembering all the awkward moments it soundtracked while I was a gawky teen, but it’s so one note that even tracks like “Sidewinder” and “Ignoreland” can’t shake me from my sleep. Going back to that place is one weird trip, let me tell you.
This album is to me what I think an album like Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road would be just six years later: a solid adult contemporary record that lulled people into a false sense of sophistication. (How I avoided buying that Williams record I may never know.) As much as I used to think Automatic was a profound meditation on death, I realize today that that had everything to do with me knowing nothing about the subject matter. It’s the muzak disc Stipe cursed the Beatles for making. How he can even sing “Everybody Hurts” with a straight face at this point in his career is beyond me.