The start of another tour, last night’s concert webcast, and the forthcoming R.E.M. greatest hits (from the Warner Brothers years only – ’88-03) remind me that the band has never made music I want to hear more than their very first full-length album, Murmur
Murmur is still the group’s defining moment. The album emerges from an unexpected hole in the musical fabric awash in guitars, mind-clinging melodies and mysterioso lyrics about two-headed cows and moral kiosks.
The subtle but astonishing production by Don Dixon and Mitch Easter moves Michael Stipe’s phlegmatic vocals in and out of the forefront of the mix (“Radio Free Europe,” “Pilgrimage”), using echo and muffling effects to generate emotional movement independent of the intelligibility of the lyrics.
The production encompasses murk and a contradictory brightness that intertwine with yin/yang totality. The more explicit the band has become in sound and theme, the less it has interested me.
A great album creates its own world, a world you don’t want to leave. R.E.M made such a world twenty years ago and has only been able to muster satellites and moons ever since.