Unapologetically intelligent, Murmur is a fully-fledged classic.
Sid Smith 2007
The success of the B-52s in the late 70s placed the spotlight on Athens GA, fuelling speculation about who might follow in the wake of their mighty bouffant vibe. Though there were contenders aplenty all would be eclipsed by REM. After the ep-sized gulp of garage band air that comprised 1982s Chronic Town, REM not only joined the race but crossed the finishing line with flying colours via their first full-length recording.
Creating the dream-like state implicit in their name with surprising confidence, the normal certainties of rock music were diffused behind a veil of beguiling amorphous harmonies, thoughtfully layered guitars, astute percussion and wilfully vague lyrical musings moved in and out of focus of each. Although they drew upon an array of influences that included elements of folk-rock, new wave sourness and the melancholic interiors found in some of The Beatles’ lesser known works, Murmur was exquisitely its own thing and hard to pigeon-hole.
Michael Stipe’s artsy inclinations ensured that countless hours would be spent by fans figuring out what he was mumbling (given that he improvised many verses direct to mic – as with “Radio Free Europe” - he was probably in the same boat), whilst the music’s fondness for avoiding the obvious meant that there was more to explore than a numb backbeat or bratty bawling about being bored.
With several of the tracks resulting out of studio jams, producers Mitch Easter and Don Dixon had the foresight to roll the tapes ahead of final takes. Edited down, these vignettes pepper the album building mood and mystery ahead of the actual songs.
Displaying a remarkable maturity, they’re unafraid to experiment. The vein-popping “9-9” constantly moves the pulse into unexpected timings without ever sounding precocious. Their sure-handedness with glorious melodies such as “Perfect Circle ” hints at things to come; the sweet, descending chorus resolves wonderfully without ever schmoozing the saccharine zone. The tribal thump of “Moral Kiosk” or “Pilgrimage’s” yearning lines proves we don’t have to have everything spelt out in rockist crayons in order to find meaning or be uplifted. Unapologetically intelligent, Murmur is a fully-fledged classic.