Do you have a favorite album? Is it even possible to single out one album and raise it above all others? I never thought so. There is just too much great music out there to pick only one album. What if we said that the album you have listened to more than any other one is actually your favorite, just for the sake of argument? What would it be? That’s an easy one for me.
I can say with complete confidence that I have listened to Automatic for the People more than any other album. REM made so many great albums, at least three of which are classics. It’s this one though, that I have consistently come back to. It was a huge hit, selling 18 million copies and spawning six singles, and that in itself is strange to me. It’s hardly an upbeat affair but it was all over the radio and MTV. Times have changed, huh? Do rock bands sell 18 million copies of anything anymore? Does anyone or do people just stream and listen for free? I think I’ve stumbled upon a future blog topic.
Getting back on track though…the melodies are a bit sad at times, as are the lyrics, which deal with loss and perhaps a longing for the past. Maybe there’s a wistful remembrance of childhood? “Let’s play Twister, let’s play Risk”, Stipe sings on Man on the Moon. He sings about Nescafe(has anyone drank that since the 70’s?) and Andy Kaufman “goofing on Elvis”, and Dr. Seuss. He sings about losing a parent and the possibility of losing a sibling in The Sweetness Follows. The Sidewinder Sleeps but with a playful nod to The Tokens. It’s all so murky, lyrically, and more about emotion than literal meaning to me.
And then there’s Nightswimming. To me, it’s their all-time masterpiece. The old photograph on the dashboard and every streetlight reveals a picture in reverse. I love that imagery. He’s reminiscing about skinny dipping and at the same time acknowledging that “these things they go away, replaced by every day”. We’re not kids anymore. Put some clothes on before you get caught! September is coming soon. The summer is gone, just like our childhoods. The freedom of our teen years is behind us and we have adult responsibilities. Put these lyrics together with that simple, brilliant, repeating piano line, and there you have it, my favorite song on the album that I have listened to more than any other. Maybe I do have a favorite album.