August 27, 2007
The piano part for “Nightswimming” is one of Mike Mills’ greatest achievements as a songwriter. It is a piece of music that seems so natural and pure that it’s hard to imagine that there was actually a time when the song did not exist. It’s actually a little bit surprising that it was “finished” with vocals and a string arrangement — surely it would be an extremely successful work as a solo piano piece.
It almost seems like an understatement to say that “Nightswimming” is an extraordinarily sentimental song. It’s not exactly a tear-jerker, but it certainly tugs on the heartstrings in a way that doesn’t seem overly sappy and manipulative, which is of course no small feat. Michael Stipe’s lyrics sets a scene rich with concrete details, but its emotional potency comes from the immense value it places on beautiful, though seemingly inconsequential moments of true love and friendship. It’s also a lovely lament for the final days of summer, and the bittersweet awareness that certain freedoms and enjoyable status quos are about to disappear as the weather slowly segues into the autumn.