Monday, October 08, 2012

Automatic For The People is twenty years old.

Remember these? They were called "CDs."
When Automatic For The People came out I was working at a one-hour photo place in the mall. I remember this distinctly because as soon as I bought the album I played it on repeat all through my shift that day. I was happy that it wasn't as ridiculously bad as the album that preceded it--no "Shiny Happy People" here--but I was also a little let down by its somber mood. But I loved "Drive," "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight" and "Man On The Moon" immediately and shortly thereafter the rest of the track grew to burrom under my skin and make themselves comfy in the back of my brain.

I bring this up not because I think this is a classic album. It's further down on my personal list of rating R.E.M. albums from worst to best  than it is on most other critics', but for some reason this memory brought the fact that at one time I actually listened to albums over and over and over again for eight hours stretches regularly. When was the last time you listened to a brand new album twice in a row? Or even all the way through twice in two days instead of just sticking your favorite tracks on a playlist?

I don't say any of this to come off as curmudgeonly. Instead it just threw into stark relief one of the main differences between then and now and it might help explain why so many bands get super big via the buzz machine only to disappear shortly afterward. Deciding on favorite tracks or the value of an album as a whole after only a listen (or, if they actually spend the time, two) can't help but elevate mediocre stuff to the top just by virtue of the sheer numbers involved. And hey, I'm not saying I have never fallen prey to this. But I do try my best to avoid falling into this trap and I think that may be one reason why I've stuck around as long as I have and maintained readers' trust when it comes to writing about music.

But this isn't about me. It's about you.

Listen to music enough to submerge yourself in it. I know we live in a world of never-ending deadlines, but they shouldn't hold true when it comes to listening to an album and really taking it in. Here's a rule of thumb to live by: if you listen to an album once and absolutely hate it you can move on,* but if you love it you should listen to it a few more times to make certain it actually holds up and didn't just hit an immediate nerve by mistake.

*And if you're a music writer you should still listen to an album you hate at least one more time. Unless it's 3OH!3. You get a pass on that one.

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