Stereogum's ‘Automatic for the People’ Tribute Makes a Downbeat Album Even More Downbeat

Photo: Courtesy of Stereogum

This week music blog Stereogum presents a novel twist on the single-album tribute concert: the single-album tribute album! Drive XV is a song-by-song tribute to R.E.M.'s Automatic for the People, which is fifteen years old this month. The album, which is available for free download, features contributions from Meat Puppets, the Wrens, and Sara Quin from Tegan & Sara, among other indie luminaries.

Though we spent our teenage years memorizing every one of Michael Stipe's mumbles and howls, we've never quite understood the fetishization of Automatic among music fans. Is it just because for so many twentysomethings, it was the first R.E.M. album they ever bought? (Radiohead's OK Computer, the first album Stereogum gave the tribute treatment to, seems a more appropriately epochal musical statement.) We've always found Automatic a downbeat collection of wildly different songs, some lovely, some instantly forgettable.

Drive XV doesn't really change our mind; in fact, it manages to make a downbeat album even more downbeat, with several of the songs (The Veils' "Drive," Quin's "Sweetness Follows") turned into dirges, stripped even of R.E.M.'s small moments of uplift. It ends nicely, though, with Dr. Dog's version of "Find the River," which transforms it into a Beatles-esque jam, and The Wrens' "Nightswimming," which turns the familiar piano ballad into — well, into a pretty good Wrens song.

Though we don't completely love this project, we do think it's totally worthwhile, and we hope this trend spreads, because we'd love to see tributes even to albums that don't quite deserve it. Like, in 2017, we fully expect to be downloading Rolling Stone Presents: JagX, celebrating the ten-year anniversary of the exceptional four-and-a-half-star album The Very Best of Mick Jagger.

Drive XV [Stereogum]