Friday, 28 December 2012

Top 102 Albums. No. 76 Murmur

Top 102 Albums. No. 76
Murmur - R.E.M.

The albums you hear when you are an impressionable adolescent always hold a particular place in your affections, don't they? There is a real excitement when a current band seems to sit easily with the best of the music you have to catch up on. I couldn't decide whether this or Reckoning would be my R.E.M. choice as both are firmly ensconced on my favourites list and I return to both often.

So I will let myself be influenced by the remembered thrill of the new and go for the first album. I still remember when Radio Free Europe started to get airplay on The Dave Fanning Show on RTE radio. It sounded exciting and soon their name started to crop up a lot. Paisley shirts and The New Psychedelia became signifiers of cool. Murmur showed that the single was not a one off. In fact it could be left off the album without harming it.

The album is drenched in what were always described as Byrdsy guitars and underpinned by the murmuring of Michael Stipe. The words came into and faded out of focus but they seemed to present a world of childhood; countryside; constant movement and echoes of religion all shot through with an excitable apprehension of the  beauty of the world.

Talk ABout the Passion, is possibly the best pop song about the Crucifixion, although it does have competition from Richard Thompson's Calvary Cross. It also manages to remind me of Joy Division - "Here are the young men a weight on their shoulders" and Talking Heads Psycho Killer in its use of a refrain en français but is nothing like either. I love the fiddle which comes in, highlighting the marriage of New Wave and Folk which R.E.M. achieved.

Highlights abound - the opening of Catapult - "Ooh, we were little boys / Ooh, we were little girls"; the fragile beauty of Perfect Circle ; The jaunty refrains of We Walk... In the end it's the sound of the record - rich smudges of beauty with dark overtones.

They were one of the definers of the 'indie' sound and at the time no-one could guess the shape of the behemoth they were to become. And although much of their later work is admirable it never excites me as much as the first two albums. There is more space for dreaming in them.


  1. I got to this working backwards from Document.

    I'm one of the few who love the 3 lps Around the sun , Up and Reveal when the tried to esperiment a bit but all anyone seemed to want was automatic part 2.

    I remember I was initially put off as Murmer was lumped in with a lot of not so good semi psychodelic aerican bands , but when I got round to listening to it I was entranced. Straining to hear the lyrics , the sparkly guitar playing where noted were more important than riffs. One of thos elps where the cover matched teh fuzzy dreamy stuff on the inside perfectly

  2. I'm always surprised at how restrained this album is; particularly for those times... especially the guitar playing; if I'd come up with those beautifully spiraling lines I'd have turned them up to 11. And the murmurings of Stipe must have been deliberate; all added to the shadowy intrigue...

  3. I can't get with this. The murmuring of Stipe is down to disguising the drivel he was singing. Grateful if anyone can cite one decent lyric.


  4. Seems that this stirs up different responses. I don't mind the 'absence' of comprehensible lyrics even though that is often what attracts me to albums but it's the sound that attracts me to this. If your lyrics are weak, murmur. Seems like a good strategy to me.