In the summer of my 13th year I met a girl at summer camp. She asked me to dance, I kissed her in the woods and when I went home I had my first girlfriend. Four years later, no longer together but silently knowing we should be, we found ourselves reunited at another summer camp; so she and I snuck out of our cabins down to the lake and went nightswimming under a starry sky. Several years after that, in 1992, she and I finally did the inevitable and got back together.
That same year, R.E.M., at the peak of their powers and popularity, brought John Paul Jones into the studio to enhance their jangly indie rock sound with lush orchestral strings and gave the world a moody, profound masterpiece called Automatic for the People.
That girl and I, finally together but living in separate university towns, would talk on the phone all night and listen to Automatic on repeat, puzzling over the enigmatic “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite” and welling up over the painfully earnest “Everybody Hurts”. One summer night we saw R.E.M. at Toronto’s Molson Ampitheatre, got high on the grass and marveled at the perfect full moon that floated in the sky while the band played “Man on the Moon”.
A few years later, we danced to the nostalgic piano ballad “Nightswimming” at our wedding despite protestations from family members who would have preferred something more upbeat, like “Up Where We Belong”; and so there we swayed on the dance floor, the centre of attention, whisper-singing into each other’s ears: “Nightswimming deserves a quiet night/I’m not sure all these people understand”.
20 years later we still sometimes dance to “Nightswimming”, remembering that night.
So that’s my take on Automatic for the People. (Here’s a proper and great review of the 25th anniversary edition worth checking out.)
Dirty Mind? Well, I’m sure that many people really like it.
WINNER: REM, Automatic for the People (4 points)
Next week’s battle – #17: The Police, ‘Synchronicity’ (1983) vs. Jay Z, ‘Reasonable Doubt’ (1996)