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.
Aerosmith’s ‘Toys in the Attic‘ was the title song, and first track, of a 1975 album that also featured the hits ‘Walk This Way’ and ‘Sweet Emotion.’ Though it reached only #11 on the Billboard chart, that album has sold more copies than any other Aerosmith record.
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.
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.