Saturday, 30 November 2013

R.E.M. - Murmur

R.E.M. - Murmur (I.R.S. Records, 1983). Debut albums don't get better than this. It's thirty years old and, for me at least, the finest record the band recorded. It's well conceived, great song upon great song, flowing seamlessly from start to finish and like all the best albums it cultivates a unique atmosphere, making you feel connected to the music. Mitch Easter's glorious production highlights the elements that made the band special from the get-go... 

Peter Buck's arpeggiated guitars jangle in a fashion reminiscent of The Byrds, while Mike Mills adds great, melodic bass lines, vocal harmonies and lush piano parts - the perfect counterpoint to Bill Berry who serves each song beautifully with his measured and wonderfully presented stick work. Michael Stipe's distinctive vocal delivery is more of a murmur, as suggested by the album title, making his lyrics near impossible to decipher. It's impressionistic, mysterious and alluring. You end up with no idea of what he's on about and that's the charm, the songs still hold together perfectly. It's an album that will never stop growing on you.

I saw R.E.M. (Rapid Eye Movement, referring to the stage of sleep where dreaming occurs) perform live a number of times. The last show I took in, as they neared towards their eventual break up, disappointed me. I left early. I remember hoards of fans chatting impatiently, waiting for them to play songs like Losing My Religion and Everybody Hurts. The band seemed to have lost touch with the elements of their sound that appealed to me and in turn attracted a fan base built around their major label success, not their earlier, pioneering indie work. I guess the problem was that it seemed like artistically at least, their best days were behind them. But every time I hear Murmur I'm transported back to where it all began and reminded just how great a band they were.

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