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Old 07-26-2007, 09:53 PM   #1
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Album Experiment: Automatic for the People

This is long, so if you don't like R.E.M. or Automatic you might not want to slog through it...

In the past we've often debated how U2 albums would sound (or be improved) with different track orders. Personally I haven't listened to ATYCLB with the release order since I purchased the CD, instead preferring the original order before Edge won the argument with Bono.

I also tried a rearranged Rattle & Hum (which, in full disclosure, I pretentiously titled "Rattled & Honed"), omitting the live tracks and including a couple b-sides, which greatly enhanced my experience with that album. POP received this treatment as well, and I think Bono himself said that three dancey songs up front was just too much.

I'm sure someone has done this before, but I'd like to invite other Interferencers to take albums from other artists they like and attempt to improve upon the original tracking. Pruning is sometimes a necessity (as we'll see shortly), but mainly I'm talking rearranging.

My first subject is R.E.M.'s Automatic For the People, an album which is widely revered and often spoken of as some kind of holy artifact. Personally I think R.E.M. has about 5 better, more consistent albums (namely Murmur, Lifes Rich Pageant, Document, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, and, yes, even Out of Time), even if none of them pack Automatic's emotional whallop. But this one can be greatly improved with some cosmetic tinkering.

Don't get me wrong; I think AFTP is a great album, but (a) R.E.M. made a good number of great albums, (b) the track order is far from perfect, and (c) there's a truly awful song that mars the quality of the overall recording and prevents it from even approaching perfection.

The order of the songs is tricky with AFTP, because thematically it's very heavy, dealing a lot with death and loss, and you want to preserve that without misleading the listener into thinking something different is on the way. To complicate matters, you have a couple upbeat songs that don't really fit with the above mood.

A confession: I've never been a huge fan of Drive. As a lead single I thought it was horrible. As an opening track I think it's far from inviting. The music is dour, the lyrics some kind of tongue in cheek grunge acknowledgement (despite the classic "hey kids, rock and roll" homage), and if you want to know why AFTP, despite the critical adulation, sold far fewer records than Out of Time, look no further than the way it introduced itself to the listening public.

I'm not saying it should be axed off the album. I like the way it builds, and the lyrics have some kind of odd reason to the rhyme, but as an opener it's too much of a mixed signal. This album isn't about, by, or for "the kids", so why call them to arms so soon?

Since this album came out 15 years ago I always felt Sweetness Follows was an extremely powerful song that was buried midway through the album, and overshadowed by the heart-on-its-sleeve triteness (albiet effective triteness) of Everybody Hurts, which patched up much of the damage done by the release of Drive and propelled this album to legend status. Sweetness just has this beautiful lyric about family and death that is so keeping in with the themes, and though it begins with the starkness well-reflected throughout the album, it builds to a crescendo of guitar feedback and strings that also displays the sophistication and grandeur of what is to, well, follow.

The only problem is that the vocal begins about 6-7 seconds into the song, and I like my albums with a little musical build-up. I'm not saying it has to be Where the Streets Have No Name, but this album needs something more than an abrupt announcement. It was only recently that I discovered a solution to this problem: New Orleans Instrumental #1, which seems a bizarre interlude on the album but leads perfectly into Sweetness, should move in tandem. Now as the title of an opening track, NO#1 doesn't really have a great ring to it, so I would have solved it by merging it completely with Sweetness and making it all one song (if you have a mp3 editor you can clip these together), or reducing the title down to New Orleans. I don't want to get too creative because the idea isn't to make up stuff, it's to work with what's already there.

Try Not to Breathe always worked for me as a track 2, and originally I had planned not to move it. But it sounds a bit too similar to Sweetness with the acoustic guitar, and secondly I always felt the second song on an album should be something upbeat (Bono's position, if I'm not mistaken). Sidewinder is too goofy to follow Sweetness, but what about Man in the Moon? Does anyone else find it strange that such a big, catchy song is all the way down at track 10, right before two emotional, epic cinematic songs like Nightswimming and Find the River? Man on the Moon is fun, but it's not shallow, and that's why I think it works here. It starts mellow enough not to be too jarring, but is really welcome in terms of melody when you really want to capture the listener's attention.

I also believe firmly in a one-two punch, and I think that while you have the listener in a sing-a-long mood, you should ride that wave. It's why Sidewinder belongs here, and for two other reasons: One, I do try to retain some semblance of the original order, with the thought that the band had to have some idea of what they were doing. Secondly, the song is just too absurd and fun to be further into the meat of the album. Imagine putting "Elevation" in the middle of ATYCLB.

At this point, you're nearing the heart of the album, and while the transition between Sidewinder and Everybody Hurts seems strange, it works on the proper album and doesn't require an alteration. I wouldn't follow an emotional song like EH with the loopy Sidewinder, but the reverse, to go deep when you have someone in a good mood with their guard down, is perfect.

Here's where I get creative: while the above song is about trying to reassure someone who's going through a period of grief, I think it's a novel idea to follow it with a song about someone who isn't willing or able to take that advice, namely the suicidal narrator of Try Not to Breathe.

The other thing is that this album was released when cassettes and LPs were still prominent, and the idea of a distinct Side One and Side Two were still thought of. While I don't like Drive as an album lead, it's perfect as a Side Two opener after Try Not to Breathe.

I've never been a huge fan of Monty Got a Raw Deal. I don't think it's a bad song, and really like the lyric, but it never caught my ear. I think it's place on the original is roughly where I have it here--buried in the middle. It's not interesting enough to be at the top, or powerful enough for the end. Here it's harmless.

Which brings me to Ignoreland. I rarely hate songs by bands I really like. But this one is wrong on so many levels. First, the lyric is totally political, a rant against George Bush's Presidential Administration and the Republicans in Congress. What's worse are the keyboards that sound totally cheesy, and about as far from the organic sound of the album as possible. It sticks out like a sore thumb, and while I imagine the attempt was to rock out and prevent the album from being too mellow, but its effect is far worse than boredom. The background vocal "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!", the lead guitar part...just terrible. I'll say it right now: no album with a song this misplaced and poorly recorded has any business being called a masterpiece. You can't point out something like this on a true masterpiece like Achtung Baby or the Joshua Tree, because there isn't one.

There are a couple Out of Time outtakes like Fretless or It's a Free World Baby, but I try to avoid adding stuff in when I can (North and South of the River was a necessity for my Pop experiment, however). The album still has 11 tracks (including the instrumental) and still clocks in at a healthy 44 minutes.

The rest of the album simply falls into place with Monty followed by Star Me Kitten, Nightswimming, and Find the River. SMK is a very mood-filled piece, and fits where it already is. The difference is that now you're less likely to skip it to get to Man on the Moon. It also has much in common musically with the timeless Nightswimming. I would never touch the last two songs, as they are two of the best closing songs in the history of recorded music. They are perfectly executed and placed.

That's it. I hope some adventurous listeners try this tracklisting and share their comments or their own alternatives. I'd suggest not listening to the original order first, so the palette is fresh. Your final order:

1. New Orleans Instrumental #1
2. Sweetness Follows
3. Man on the Moon
4. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight
5. Everybody Hurts
6. Try Not to Breathe

7. Drive
8. Monty Got a Raw Deal
9. Star Me Kitten
10. Nightswimming
11. Find the River

Enjoy!
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Old 07-26-2007, 10:02 PM   #2
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I wanted to clarify one thing here that I accidentally omitted, and will do so without editing my original post. I am totally in league with R.E.M.'s political position, and am in no way a fan of George Bush Sr. However, I feel that on such a personal album, Ignoreland's lyrical content mars the timelessness of the recording, regardless of how passionate the band was about the state of the world at the time.
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Old 07-26-2007, 10:11 PM   #3
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Re: Album Experiment: Automatic for the People

Quote:
Originally posted by lazarus
.A confession: I've never been a huge fan of Drive. As a lead single I thought it was horrible. As an opening track I think it's far from inviting. The music is dour, the lyrics some kind of tongue in cheek grunge acknowledgement (despite the classic "hey kids, rock and roll" homage), and if you want to know why AFTP, despite the critical adulation, sold far fewer records than Out of Time, look no further than the way it introduced itself to the listening public.
Oh, this killed me dead. I love Drive and think it's a terrific opening.

As for it being a lead-off single, and "the listening public", I like that REM has never gone right for the single that'll sell.

Look at New Adventures in Hi-Fi, with E-Bow the Letter as the first single.

I think the fact that sales and radio play isn't the most important thing to them. If it were, Man On the Moon would have been the first single off this album.

Leave Drive where it is.
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Old 07-26-2007, 10:12 PM   #4
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Nice analysis! I adore this album and can kinda see how your track order might make it even better. Will have to try this out. I lovvve Ignoreland even though it kinda sticks out subject wise on this album.

Quote:
Originally posted by corianderstem
As for it being a lead-off single, and "the listening public", I like that REM has never gone right for the single that'll sell.

Look at New Adventures in Hi-Fi, with E-Bow the Letter as the first single.

I think the fact that sales and radio play isn't the most important thing to them. If it were, Man On the Moon would have been the first single off this album.

Leave Drive where it is.
QFT!!!!!!!!!!!
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Old 07-26-2007, 10:14 PM   #5
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This album is absolute perfection. Top 10 all time for me. Thanks for the alternate tracklisting...I'll give it a try when I can...
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Old 07-26-2007, 10:16 PM   #6
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Re: Album Experiment: Automatic for the People

Quote:
Originally posted by lazarus

1. New Orleans Instrumental #1
2. Sweetness Follows
3. Man on the Moon
4. The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight
5. Everybody Hurts
6. Try Not to Breathe

7. Drive
8. Monty Got a Raw Deal
9. Star Me Kitten
10. Nightswimming
11. Find the River

Enjoy!
Oh nooo ... that tracklist is very bad! I don't have anything against the one choosen by the band.
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Old 07-26-2007, 10:30 PM   #7
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Hmmmm. Not that I listen to albums in their original track orders anymore (everything's usually playlist or shuffle), but I always loved AFTP just as it is. Probably one of my top 10 favorite albums.

And Drive is one of those rare songs that I've listened to and fallen in love with on the first listen -- from the very first chords.

But I'll give your tracklisting a try, for fun!
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Old 07-26-2007, 11:21 PM   #8
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Will give it a spin.

Sweetness Follows is a cracking under-appreciated tune, and I concur with your thoughts on Ignoreland and Drive. I personally find both pretty underwhelming. They undermine the quality of the album by a fair bit.

For some reason, thought I loved the album for the first few months after I heard it, I've rarely had an urge to go and listen to it immediately, as I have had with albums that would be in my personal top 30. It lacks something, a certain cohesion.

Fuck Me Kitten is great, that deserves pride of place on the album, preferably in the opening half of the album.
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Old 07-26-2007, 11:28 PM   #9
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Re: Re: Album Experiment: Automatic for the People

Quote:
Originally posted by Aygo


Oh nooo ... that tracklist is very bad! I don't have anything against the one choosen by the band.

Did you try it yet, or are you judging it sight unseen?

coriander, I really appreciate your comments, and please understand that I totally respect R.E.M.'s disregard for single popularity (at least back in the old days). They've actually made some great choices--who would have thought Losing My Religion would be such a hit?

The only single that I think is a weak song is Bittersweet Me, which is possibly the most generic song on the eclectic Hi-Fi. And to a less offensive extent, Bang and Blame, for being a boring song on the rough & tumble Monster. But I love the fact that they led with E-Bow. They were probably so excited to record with Patti Smith they couldn't help themselves.

Again, I find Automatic to be a very moving album, and to me Drive is musically a bit TOO stark and ominous, almost claustrophobic, with lyrics that are too vague and coy for what follows. I think New Orleans into Sweetness better reflects (and sets) the tone of the ENITRE album, which is something that is at times funereal and sad, but ultimately uplifting.

Try it and see what you think.


Also, thanks for the support, Zoot! Hope you like it.
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Old 07-26-2007, 11:31 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by intedomine
Will give it a spin.

Sweetness Follows is a cracking under-appreciated tune, and I concur with your thoughts on Ignoreland and Drive. I personally find both pretty underwhelming. They undermine the quality of the album by a fair bit.

For some reason, thought I loved the album for the first few months after I heard it, I've rarely had an urge to go and listen to it immediately, as I have had with albums that would be in my personal top 30. It lacks something, a certain cohesion.

Fuck Me Kitten is great, that deserves pride of place on the album, preferably in the opening half of the album.
I agree that FMK is underappreciated, but I think you really need to have the listeners well-tuned in before springing something like that on them. Imagine putting If You Wear that Velvet Dress near the head of Pop! As I said, not being right before Man On the Moon anymore gives it a lot more power, especially after Monty.
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Old 07-26-2007, 11:46 PM   #11
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Re: Re: Re: Album Experiment: Automatic for the People

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Originally posted by lazarus
The only single that I think is a weak song is Bittersweet Me, which is possibly the most generic song on the eclectic Hi-Fi. And to a less offensive extent, Bang and Blame, for being a boring song on the rough & tumble Monster.
Agreed on both counts.
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Old 07-27-2007, 12:01 AM   #12
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I actually find much of New Adventures to be dull.

How The West Was Won is just a solid but unexciting opener...pretty standard. Wake Up Bomb's lyrics are atrocious, but the energy the song has saves it. Leper is very good, but is far too long (one of the album's greatest flaws, though I do enjoy Leave in spite of its 7 minute run time), Bittersweet Me's biggest issue is its chorus...very clunky and awkward.

Really, it's a good record, but it would be so much better if 15 minutes were shaved off of it.
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Old 07-27-2007, 12:14 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally posted by LemonMelon
I actually find much of New Adventures to be dull.

Agreed -- but New Test Leper, E-Bow The Letter and Electrolite are great songs!
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Old 07-27-2007, 01:04 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally posted by LemonMelon
I actually find much of New Adventures to be dull.

How The West Was Won is just a solid but unexciting opener...pretty standard. Wake Up Bomb's lyrics are atrocious, but the energy the song has saves it. Leper is very good, but is far too long (one of the album's greatest flaws, though I do enjoy Leave in spite of its 7 minute run time), Bittersweet Me's biggest issue is its chorus...very clunky and awkward.

Really, it's a good record, but it would be so much better if 15 minutes were shaved off of it.
I agree that it could lose 2 or 3 songs. But dull? It's not as rocking as Monster but it has more energy on it than the last three albums, Automatic, and Out of Time combined. Departure, Leave, So Fast So Numb...these aren't boring songs. Part of what gives this album the kick it has is that most of this album was written and recorded on the road, often at soundchecks. It has a looseness that the band isn't really known for, and it's refreshing.

In addition to the above mentioned tracks, Undertow is an amazing song that I loved since I heard it (and was dying to know what it was) on the Monster tour. And Be Mine just builds to such a great close.

What the album lacks in consistency and cohesion it more than makes up for in creativity. As I said before, it's eclectic and contains some of the best music the band has made. It can be a slog to listen through but what a handful of standouts.

I would definitely get rid of Bittersweet Me, Zither, and Binky the Doormat, though I know that last song has its supporters. What's strange is that the Monster tour regular Revolution was recorded during the sessions and left off the album, eventually ending up on a Batman soundtrack or something. It's better than half the songs on the album.

I love that we're talking about this band, because for the last few years I've been too disgruntled and disappointed to even mention their name. The clips of the Dublin rehearsals have me very, very excited.
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Old 07-27-2007, 01:08 AM   #15
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Perhaps it just needs to grow on me. Monster was a rough listen at first, but it has grown to be very dear to me. Also, I agree with you about Undertow; that's a very good tune.
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