Murmur is a fascinating album because it not only introduced the jangly pop and soulful folk rock that R.E.M. would perfect, but also weird, discordant, soft-punk songs like this one that pointed to some of the odd detours the band would take throughout their career.
My favorite album of 1983 is maybe my fifth or sixth favorite album by the band who recorded it. But R.E.M. is so great that their fifth or sixth best album is sure to be better than just about anything else. And that’s the case with Murmur.
The band’s debut album has all of the hallmarks that would make them the godfathers of the alternative rock movement. Jangly guitars, indecipherable lyrics, minor key melodies, soaring choruses, and those wonderful Michael Stipe vocals with just the right combination of earnestness and indifference.
To be more specific, this is true for any R.E.M. album release between 1983 and 1996 (in other words, the Michael Mills years). Once Mills left, either because of his absence or by coincidence, the band lost that special alchemy for me.
Rolling Stone named the album the best of 1983, ranking it ahead of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and it was hailed as the introduction of a new sort of alternative rock… too soft to be punk, too subversive to be pop, music made for college radio — for kids who wanted songs that spoke to their hearts and minds more than their stomachs and feet.