Saturday, May 05, 2007

Automatic for the People

This REM album was the first CD I ever bought when I knew I was getting a CD player for Christmas. I bought it in October and opened it up when I got it home. Had nothing to play it on, but I would take out the liner notes and read through all the lyrics.

I already knew most of the songs from their being played constantly on Much Music, but the ones I didn't know were this unsolvable mystery to me. What did "Star me Kitten" actually sound like? Did the tune I cooked up in my head bear any resemblance to what wonderful sounds would come out of my fancy new CD player I'd unwrap Christmas morning?

Now even at that age I was fully aware that REM had a really deep musical history, and that their last couple of albums, Automatic and Out of Time, were deviations from what the band's sound normally was. And that you could call a lot of it pop music without really being wrong. But it was pop music with a craftsmanship and an ear to induce intent listening.

Once I got the CD player my fairly extensive collection of tapes hardly got a listen. It didn't help that I was taking a bit of a chance every time I'd put a tape in my old stereo, once a month or so I'd hear that awful sound and then silence, and I'd know that whatever I was listening to was now gone forever, eaten by the tape monster.

Of course the album itself is probably not as epic as I'm making it out to be, but it occupies this place in my musical timeline precisely because it had enough there to keep me listening to it and re-listening when it was the only album I owned, rather than scraping up the money to buy another one right away since I was bored of my initial purchase.

In my second year university I got an apartment with two fellow MacKenzie House residents, and one of them, who was originally from Japan and who's music collection consisted of one Abba tape, happened to buy this album and listened to it constantly, while she studied, cleaned, or sometimes I'd just see her sitting at the kitchen table with her little stereo listening to it and not doing anything. If this were any other album that stereo surely would have flown out of our window and landed in the dumpster across the parking lot.

I tried playing her a few tracks from Lifes Rich Pageant when she asked me if they had any other songs and she was having none of it.She thought for a second that it was another band with the same name that I had dug up just to play a joke on her until I showed her the band members listing.

This is a great album to listen to in the dark, it keeps a consistent pace and doesn't interrupt you if you aren't focused on it, but also has enough to keep you interested when you do turn your attention to the music.

And it has one of the best last few songs of any album I can think of. "Nightswimming" paints a wonderful mental image as he describes driving to a reservoir late at night and going for a swim by yourself, and then "Find the River" ends with a coda summing up their current musical direction, capping the last two albums off quite nicely.

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By al - 8:57 p.m. |

I have to concur on the overall awesomeness of this album! I bought it shortly after Christmas. (I think we must both have gotten CD players on the same Christmas, weird huh?) Since my whole CD collection was four cds, and I had a five disk changer, it was in the rotation for months, and somehow never got old. And still sounds great today.
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