in CAT

C.A.T.: Murmur

R.E.M. – Murmur (1983)

OK, so I guess I could keep the whole debut album trend going for at least one more week.  And since my summer basically comes to an end this week, I guess it’s kind of fitting that I do an R.E.M. album, since I spent much of the summer getting deeper into these pioneers of alternative rock.  Plus, I think they deserve a better CAT than Sean’s weak attempt.

I guess what makes Murmur such an arresting collection of songs is that it shows the band’s signature sound already fully-realized in a way that wasn’t quite like anything going on in the world of underground or mainstream music.  You’ve got Peter Buck’s jangly guitars, Michael Stipe’s somewhat unintelligable but nonetheless impassioned vocals, and then you’ve got the melodic basslines and soaring back-up vocals from Mike Mills.  These are really the core elements that have stayed at the backbone of R.E.M.’s sound for decades, and though they’ve certainly taken this sound in different directions, you can see on Murmur that they had already stumbled on to something special.

I guess I tend to look at R.E.M. as a band that were sort of a fusion of a lot of the best music that was happening in American rock’s underground from bands like The Feelies and The dB’s in the early ’80s.  However, I think R.E.M. was able to finally achieve mainstream success because for one they stayed together and developed their sound more than those bands, but also because there was undeniable respect for classic pop songwriting in their music.  You can see this in the Byrds-y jangle of songs like “Catapult” or “Sitting Still”, while you can also see R.E.M.’s interest in tender piano ballads, the likes of which would continue to be a big part of their repertoire for years to come.

Honestly, I always feel silly talking about an album that’s as heralded and influential as Murmur, but I guess that just speaks to the importance of the album.  And after going deeper into R.E.M.’s discography this summer, I can say that they’ve put out quite a lot of good music, but I don’t think think they’ve ever sounded better than on this debut.

Favorite Tracks: “Radio Free Europe”, “Moral Kiosk”, “Catapult”


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