80s #2: Murmur

REM- Murmur 1983

Second in a series of my picks for the best, most representative albums of the 1980s.

Update: As the picture to the left shows, I am using photos of my own copy of the albums in question from now on, through some miracle of image syncing that my feeble brain could not previously comprehend. I am no longer such a cretin with technology! (*the crowd roars*) Here’s R.E.M.’s Murmur from 1983…

When people say ‘R.E.M. are the originators of alternative rock’, they don’t mean that R.E.M. originated the musical nature of alternative rock to come out in the 80s and 90s. They mean that R.E.M. quite simply originated the very idea 
and manner of being alternative and ‘indie’ for the 80s and 90s. Stylistically influential, but not musically, which is fine as it makes them that much more unique and inimitable. They defined the state being on the arty perimeters for around 6 years until they broke into that despicable mainstream.

The lyrics on Murmur sound utterly random, and truly weird. Not weird in an exotic, Captain Beefheart way, but weird from the mundane depths of the mind. They make absolutely no sense, which initially I thought was just lazy and stupid. Then I realized that the lyrics make perfect sense phonetically, which is what the highly rhythmic backing asks for. The nervous but measured cadences of Peter Buck’s jangling Rickenbacker are so perfectly congruent with Stipe’s floating melody, with each strange word making perfect musical sense. It’s this blend of endless hooks and cryptic lyrics that makes Murmur endlessly listenable.

You can actually measure the point when R.E.M. lost their way by measuring when Michael Stipe’s lyrics become understandable. This album is their absolute peak, before Stipe fades slowly into comprehensibility.

Note: I know there will be readers who automatically disregard R.E.M. due to excessive exposure to Everybody Hurts. Please forget it. This record is unrelated to that zippo-waving, pseudo-sensitive twaddle

Use this link at your own risk… http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/rem/radiofreeeurope.html


2 thoughts on “80s #2: Murmur

  1. Funny you should write about this. I literally just heard Radio Free Europe on the radio two days ago for the first time in ages. Great song for which one must absolutely maximize the volume. I recall seeing the band being interviewed on some teen dance show (!) when this song came out. The kids liked their songs but complained about not being able to understand the lyrics. The band seemed (acted?) surprised and said they’d try to rectify that. Took them a while I guess. Anyway, good band REM. Always thought they had a lot of integrity. Also, don’t like Everybody Hurts? Try Night Swimming.


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