By Patrick Wall, Style Editor

When history looks back on ’90s alternative rock, the word “fleeting” will likely define much of the genre’s music. The decade produced some incredible work, but not without its price.

Many bands released an exceptional breakthrough album, then failed to recreate that initial magic and spent the rest of their career in stagnation.

Albums like The Wallflowers’ Bringing Down the Horse and Hootie & the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View still stand as the epitome of the decade — bands whose careers were so promising but whose continuing existence has moved from exciting to parody.

Despite all the mediocre bands and disappointing records that made up the burgeoning scene at the time, it took a truly talented band to show how it was done.

That band was R.E.M., and that album was 1992’s Automatic for the People.

In a career spanning nearly 25 years, the Atlanta, Ga. trio has charted more than a dozen songs and recorded 14 albums. Yet Automatic remains its triumph — high praise for a band many credit for creating the alternative rock genre.

Why? From start to finish, Automatic is brimming with the kind of emotional honesty and quality songwriting that is still held in high esteem.

“Hey kids, rock and roll/Nobody tells you where to go,” from the opening track “Drive” is a prime example, employing the kind of attitude that Nirvana built its early career around.

But where Kurt Cobain and company brought an aggressive “who cares?” attitude to their music, R.E.M. employed a disarming feeling of gloom.

The song’s quiet, finger-picked guitar lines play like the most wounded of feelings before flourishing into beautiful orchestration, thanks to the composing talents of Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones.

Make no mistake — Automatic is an exploration of the group’s darker side. The album is filled with thoughts on grief and tribulation.

But instead of feeling trite, singer Michael Stipe crafted lyrics that are thoughtful and maybe even a little hopeful.

“Try Not to Breathe,” one of the highlights of the album, demonstrates this perfectly. “I will try not to worry you/I have seen things that you will never see/Leave it to memory me.”

Automatic is home to “Everybody Hurts,” one of the band’s signature songs, but it pales in comparison to much of the album’s other material.

This isn’t a slight against one the best tear-jerker ballads of the ’90s — the album is just that good.

That isn’t to say the entire album wallows in misery. “Ignoreland” takes a sharp bite at the politics of the time, alluding to the effects of Reaganomics and a right-wing administration.

“Man on the Moon” is a more playful track, fondly remembering the late comedian Andy Kaufman by asking if he’s “goofing on Elvis.”

In an era that created a blinding number of flash-in-the-pan artists, Automatic for the People was a reminder of what an innovative veteran band could accomplish.

Nearly 20 years after its release, the record stands as one of the seminal albums of its time, and a guidepost for artists looking to create honest music that will endure.