Album #518 – Murmur

Album #518

Murmur was the first studio album by R.E.M. and boy have they come a long way. Their first full-length effort was marred by problems in the studio. Originally, the band were paired with synth pop producer Stephen Hague, who demanded perfection and intimidated and embarrassed drummer Bill Berry, forcing him to redo his drum parts several times. The band decided to abort those sessions and do things their way. They then settled on Don Dixon and Mitch Easter to produce the album but, R.E.M. were equal partners in production. The pair would also produce the band’s second album, Reckoning. The sound in those sessions also was unique: no synths, Bill Berry played from a drum booth, no guitar solos and nothing was re-recorded unless every band member agreed. In fact, no rock music clichés exist on Murmur. Lead singer Michael Stype’s vocals are buried in the mix and at times, it is hard to understand what he’s saying. Instead, R.E.M. created a new movement in the 80’s. Many have called it jangle pop due to the jangly sound of Peter Buck’s guitar. It has similarities with the power pop movement of the 70’s. But, the group was definitely creating something new and simple, compared to the massive pop music production of the 80’s. In fact, the last two albums on the list, Murmur and Pyromania, are polar opposites. But, what does make this album so special is just how simple and unique it was compared to the group’s later output. At the time, lead singer Michael Stype was shy and uncomfortable in his role. Therefore, his voice wasn’t as loud or strong as it would later be. Many of the lyrics don’t make sense. It wouldn’t be until the late 80’s that it would change. But, the initial sparks were there. One of my favourite voices in pop music is Stype’s, with so much emotion and resonance that makes him stand out from his peers. Murmur was instantly lauded by the critics. So much so, that Rolling Stone named it album of the year, beating The Police and Michael Jackson. But, it would take another 4 years before R.E.M. became a huge force in rock music. Highlights include: Radio Free Europe, Pilgrimage, Laughing, Talk About The Passion, Moral Kiosk, Catapult, Sitting Still, We Walk and West of the Fields. Overall, I give Murmur, 4.5 out of 5.

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