R.E.M. – The Automatic Box

Now we’re cooking with gas! By which I mean “reviewing an old box set.” A common peeve of mine is the continuing tendency of members of the age bracket slightly above mine to caterwaul about the supposedly deleterious effects of new technology on kids these days. It’s a small step above Abe Simpson for one, and for two, as someone for whom university partially included Facebook and partially did not I can affirm that it made sociability way, way easier and more pleasant. Not to mention the joys of smartphones and ipods, two other things that went to nonexistence to existence during my late formative years.

See, back in my first couple years of higher education, the internet was for shit. There was no Youtube, nor Reddit, nor even Slate. You had to go looking just for things to talk about in ways that required precious minutes more work. Do you know how shit memes were before Youtube? Not to mention graduating the year before “I Kissed A Girl” became a hit, perhaps the greatest sadness of my youth. There’s a lot to say that I’m not bothering with (sometime I will), but where I was getting is that music gathering was total garbage when this was released back in 1994, far before my cognitive time. A common complaint of mine, but this is just silly: a cynical four disc collection of music that would easily fit on one and inexplicably doesn’t include a Live disc so that completists can get their completions. And yet it’s still easily the best way to get R.E.M. B-sides from the Automatic For The People (And Green, for some reason) era.

Two problems: You downloaded this if’n you have it, making is essentially a normal sized album, which is really unfortunate since R.E.M.desperately needs your money. Secondly, R.E.M. were by now A-listers’ A-listers, and they were recording real new songs for no fan. So, like “Dead Letter Office,” this is mostly a collection of covers and the dudes taking the piss out of themselves, but with the pollution of seven boring instrumentals. The piss takes are pissy and ingratiating, but the two songs taken from soundtracks are money (especially “Fretless”) and the covers are at worst decent (Syd Barrett’s “Dark Globe”) and at best dominant sexually (their dead-serious take on “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and re-appropriation of “First We Take Manhattan”). Plus, there’s inexplicably a live take of “Everybody Hurts” so that my “Find the River” single is even more useless. How can a live song fade out? Check and mate, record company imperialist pigdogs!

6/10

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