Wednesday, June 27, 2012

197 Murmur. You can Murmur all you like.



Album: Murmur
Artist: REM
Year: 1983
Genre: Rock

Tracks

  1. Radio Free Europe
  2. Pilgrimage
  3. Laughing
  4. Talk About the Passion
  5. Moral Kiosk
  6. Perfect Circle
  7. Catapult
  8. Sitting Still
  9. 9-9
  10. Shaking Through
  11. We Walk
  12. West of the Fields

It's funny how an album's appeal waxes and wanes. When Murmur was first released in 1983, Rolling Stone Magazine was enthusiastic but held one star in reserve when giving it 4 out of 5 in it's review. Great but could be better.

By the end of 1983 when Rolling Stone compiled their greatest albums of the year, Murmur had somehow found that extra star and topped the list. On reflection it was clearly the best thing anyone had put out that year and even beat Thriller (which managed 20% more stars when it was reviewed).

Seven years later, Rolling Stone sat back to consider the best albums of the entire decade and concluded Murmur was actually only the eighth best, one behind Thriller at number seven.

Leap forward two decades and Rolling Stone is compiling the best albums of all time- the hallowed top 500. Murmur makes the grade but it's definitely beneath Thriller, 150 places beneath it in fact.

It seems time has not been as kind to REM's debut as it has to Michael Jackson's biggest album which on the whole is strange. REM continued to be a well-respected band who earned extra kudos by quitting when they were ahead. Jackson became a walking punchline who generated more headlines than positive reviews. You would think their reputation would have soared while his took a beating. Granted Jackson died which is always a brilliant career move but this list was put together when he was still alive but his career was on dialysis in an iron lung.

It's more surprising still when you consider the fact that Thriller sounds like a product of the eighties but Murmur seems kind of timeless. It relies on a guitar/bass/drums formula which worked in 1963 and still works today. If you put REM's career retrospective best-of on random you'd be hard pressed to pick the 1983 tracks from the latter ones.

For some reason however Murmur has gradually ebbed away in people's estimations and has been overtaken by a host of other albums that languished below it when the decade was being assessed in 1989.

My own explanation is that the main reason people loved Murmur so much in 1983 was that it sounded like it could have come from 1963 which back then was a rare thing. When everyone was recording with synthesizers and drum machines, the sound of a rock band doing what rock bands used to was a breath of fresh air. It was enough to be afford it a degree of greatness then but thirty years later it sounds a bit... dull. The production values aren't good enough to elevate it above a fairly mediocre collection of tunes that don't really linger in the memory long after the album has ended.

Highlight: Radio Free Europe
Lowlight: We Walk

Influenced by: Big Star
Influenced: College radio

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote:  "I'm aware the sheer mediocrity of Murmur is blinding"

-I've never heard mediocrity described as "blinding" before.

2 comments:

  1. I could go on a whole rant as to how much I love this album, but I am going to save you all the trouble and highly HIGHLY recommend the deluxe edition, which features far superior remastering, as well as a great live show tacked on. If you don't have it, get it, listen to it a few times, and then, if you like it check out Reckoning (Deluxe). To give you an example, Harbourcoat (from Reckoning) still is almost transcendental in nature, even to this day.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks. I'll check out the deluxe version. I've got a few REM bootlegs and I do like them more live (but then I prefer most bands live). "We are REM and this is what we do."

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