LP Review: Murmur by R.E.M.

IRS; 1983

My Rating: A (92/100)

Best Tracks: "Radio Free Europe", "Laughing", "Talk About the Passion", "Catapult", "Sitting Still"

Not with a bang but a murmur.


"Radio Free Europe" (5/5)

  • One of the best rock and roll tracks ever.
  • One of the great things about this track is the diverse instrumentation that sort of hides in the background.
  • Also, the tempo is fixed from the sloppy 7" version.
  • This is what it feels like to ride a rock and roll wave for a few minutes.
  • Witness.

"Pilgrimmage" (4.5/5)

  • Murky.
  • "Two-headed cow"???
  • Cool use of the vibes in the background.
  • You know, Berry’s drum beat almost sounds techno. Weird.

"Laughing" (5/5)

  • Pretty acoustic work.
  • That’s a gorgeous melody.
  • This is an archetypal Stipe "mumble-core" cut. Does he ever even sing the word "laughing?"

"Talk About the Passion" (5/5)

  • The "other" hit from the album.
  • I love how the music gets all clean at the chorus.
  • Excellent bridge on this one. Sort of psychedelic.

"Moral Kiosk" (4.5/5)

  • OK, now we’ve got some post-punk.
  • Mills’ background vocals on the chorus sound weird.
  • Brilliant bass work by Mills too.

"Perfect Circle" (4.5/5)

  • I think this one really foreshadows the sound of Fables.
  • Pretty piano.

"Catapult" (5/5)

  • "Did we miss anything?"
  • Love the guitar/bass interplay on this song.
  • Marr/Rourke ain’t got nothin’ on Buck/Mills.

"Sitting Still" (5/5)

  • This was the b-side to the "Radio Free Europe" single.
  • It’s one of their brilliant early cuts. Amazing chorus.

"9-9" (4/5)

  • The only "not great" track on the album
  • But it’s still really good post-punk.

"Shaking Through" (5/5)

  • Do Stipe’s lyrics make any sense here? Are they even intelligible?
  • Amazing melody again.
  • Nice fade-back funk piece on the tail-end.

"We Walk" (4.5/5)

  • If nothing else, catchy and fun.
  • Sounds like someone fell when they got up the stairs onto the landing.

"West of the Fields" (4.5/5)

  • Another cool post-punk cut.
  • Maybe not QUITE the closer one would hope for, but still pretty great.


  • Murmur states the obvious: REM was destined to be a great band. You hear it in Stipe’s soaring and fluid vocal melodies. You feel it in the precision and angularity of Buck’s and Mills’ playing. You find it in the songs, which sound effortless and organic but never overwrought or immodest. These guys were CHANNELING something back in the early 80’s.
  • Murmur cuts against expectations. It definitely rocks, but it’s also muddy and unyielding. For every "Radio Free Europe" you get a "Pilgrimage", for every "Catapult" you get a "Perfect Circle." The record sounds like the kudzu on the cover looks. Both REMs are present here: the rock band that would fill arenas and the artsy troupe that would be the face of the alternative nation. 
  • You won’t find many records from 1983 that don’t sound dated. Murmur goes beyond that though, into the realm of timelessness that only a few bands have ever achieved.

Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Songs (4.71/5)

Quick Review (LP): Collapse Into Now by R.E.M.

Collapse Into Now

My Rating: C- (42/100)

Best Tracks: "Uberlin", "Oh My Heart", "Blue"

Let’s just call it: R.E.M. has not been the same, nor ever will be again, without Bill Berry on drums. It’s been 5 albums now, and we can argue that every album released with Berry was good, if not great, if no classic. Every album since his departure has been mediocre if not boring. How do we explain this? Not sure. After all, Berry was only the drummer, and not really known to be the band’s chief songwriter. But I suspect it has to do with band chemistry. R.E.M. was always that 4 man troupe, and it’s arguable that the real R.E.M. ceased to be without him. So that’s what I’m sticking to. Bring back Berry or call it a day. Or just completely reinvent yourselves like Dylan.

– Will they ever embrace their pre-major label sound again, or have they decidedly left it behind?
– The problem may be with Stipe, who’s lyrics are a little too poppy, a little too obvious. It’s as if around Document he decided it was time to leave the "murmur" behind.
– It’s true they are borrowing from a lot of old ideas, it’s just that all of the old ideas happened in 1991 or later.
Matt LeMay summarizes the shortcomings of this record well: “This album is host to more such complexity than anything since 1998’s Up– but Collapse Into Now still sounds like the work of a band caught between old habits and new adventures.” Also worth reading is the paragraph where he details the retreaded material on this record.
– His list could go on. "Me, Marlon Brando…" recalls "Monty Got a Raw Deal." 
– It almost sounds as if they are giving up and just saying, "Look, you want the sound of old REM, here’s some old REM for you."  What they really need at this point is a late career version of Fables, a dark and completely otherworldly record, an idiosyncratic and arcane concept album.
– "Blue" is at least interesting, if not really a great song. Honestly, I’d love to hear a completely weird REM album of dark, downtempo tracks like this.

Cohesion (3.5/5)
Concept (3.5/5)
Consistency (3/5)
Consequence (4/5)
Songs (3/5)

My review of R.E.M.’s Murmur|
Career in Brief: REM’s IRS Years