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.
Eleven years ago, I ranked R.E.M.’s albums and placed 1986’s Lifes Rich Pageant at #3. I have some quibbles about that list and would likely shuffle some titles were I to revisit it today, but I stand by the placement of this album.
Pageant was the album where R.E.M. started the transition from the alternative to the mainstream. It’s more polished and muscular than its predecessors, but not as radio-friendly as what was to come. It sits nicely in that sweet spot.
Today’s radom track come from R.E.M.’s 1987 collection of B-sides and rare tracks titled Dead Letter Office.
Often, albums like this can be a bit of a drag — a simple cash grab or an easy way to satisfy a contract. That may well have been the purpose of this one, too, but it’s a great collection of songs nonetheless, providing a glimpse into the band’s burgeoning creativity as well as their playful side.
I once ranked Reveal as the 12th best R.E.M. album, which isn’t saying much because they had released only 14 at the time. But I guess that’s enough to make it my #9 album of 2001.
Reveal was the band’s second album without drummer Bill Berry, and while none of the post-Berry records measure up to R.E.M.’s work as a quartet, this one does have several of their best tunes from that era.
Funny how opinions change over time. I’ve written about R.E.M.’s Out of Time a few times before but never in a very positive light. In posts eight and nine years ago I described it as one of the band’s weakest efforts.
Yet here I am in 2019, naming it as my #1 album of 1991. And it wasn’t even a tough decision.