Murmur

R.E.M.’s first album is one that’s very good, very consistent and nearly impossible to tell the songs apart the first few listens. But that’s not a problem. This is the sort of album that you’ll like immersing yourself because the melodies are catchy and the atmosphere is engaging. The more you play it, the more closely you’ll want to listen to it. It won’t be long before you’ll be able to tell the songs apart. This is a very gorgeous album! These guys seem like they were supposed to be categorized as post-punk, but their jangly guitar style borrows more closely from The Byrds. The mood is very reserved and introverted, which was also a new thing back in 1983. The band’s characteristic sound is undoubtedly Michael Stipe’s sleepy, sandy voice, which somehow sounds rough and refined at the same time. I know that doesn’t makes sense, but that’s the best I can do to describe it. That voice is one of the great mysteries. If you don’t want to analyze it, you can bask in its pure pleasantness and hear it blend perfectly with the jangly instrumentation. Though he’s usually mumbling, so you’ll probably need a lyrics sheet if you even care about lyrics that much.

“Radio Free Europe” is a great introduction. Immediately, it immerses you into the thick atmosphere, jangly guitars and ultra-clean drum thwacks. Occasionally, we’ll hear a very plain piano pounding, and even more occasionally, there’s a glockenspiel sound. It creates an incredibly delicate atmosphere! Listening to the riff and that rumbling bass-line, it vaguely recalls punk music, but the intricate textures are so different and delicate that the comparisons end there. Moreover, you listen to it and you will probably find it immediately lovable. The melody isn’t that complicated, but it’s has catchy verses and an even catchier chorus. As soon as it’s done playing, you’ll exclaim to the stars that you just listened to a wholesome song, and you LOVE IT! The follow-up song is “Pilgrimage” and, amazingly so, it’s almost equally as good. You could say that about all the songs in Murmur. Amazingly consistent. (……Alright, I was taking some liberties about your taste in music, but what I described will probably happen. I haven’t yet met a sane or insane person who didn’t like Murmur. People who hate society love Murmur, people who love society love Murmur….. I think even space aliens love Murmur. It’s magic!)

The craziest thing about this album is that every single listener will have a different idea about what their favorite song is. (And most listeners seem to care enough about it to try to single one out.) The only way two people are going to have the exact same opinion for the exact same reason is if they’re in some sort of brainwashing cult! I have a very absolute opinion that my favorite track is “Shaking Through,” but there’s a very good chance that the person sitting next to me would want to slap me on the back of the head for thinking that. But I like the song anyway! It’s upbeat with incredibly catchy melody. Stipes’ gravelly mumble seems like it’s at its heights though a little uglier than usual. I have no idea what he’s saying, but I don’t care! His voice is a cool instrument! The guitars and pianos and drums are a perfect, earthly backdrop to it. They don’t try to show off, and that really helps the texture come alive.

I will say that “Talk About the Passion” is almost my favorite song. It was a photo finish. It’s not quite as upbeat, but the melody is great and just as endearing … it even has a more distinct chorus, and the guitar riff is quite a bit cooler. They even bring in a cello. It reeks of complete coolness. The last track of the album “West of Fields” is another massive favorite of mine. It’s even more upbeat than “Shaking Through” and just about as furious as they were willing to get. But they come up with a few really cool textures in there. The one-phrase chorus is really catchy, and they even manage to work in a gorgeous middle-eight section. “Moral Kiosk” is notable for the more-distinctive-than-usual guitar riffs, and the double drum rasps that pop up. And that makes it especially cool. “Catapult” is notable for its one-word chorus that has the charming tendency to stick around in my mind looooooooooong after it’s through playing. “Sitting Still” features a more-passionate-than-usual vocal performance from Stipe. “9-9” loses some points for its somewhat cluttered instrumentation, but gains it right back for sounding pretty mean at times without sacrificing the album’s overall vibe.

To further illustrate my theory about no two people being able to choose the same favorite songs, there are two songs in particular that I don’t care a whole lot for, but other record reviewers have singled out as highlights. “Walk” is a good song, but it seems a little too fruity for me.  I’m also not a massive fan of the atmospheric piano ballad “Perfect Circle” because it seems a little dull to me. But it really doesn’t matter, because all these songs are great. If you haven’t heard this album yet, I urge you to get it. You’ll listen to it, and I’m positive you’ll like it. And then you can play it to some of your friends, because they’ll like it, and then they’ll like you. This is a scientific fact.

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