If you can legitimately love, love, an album, then I most certainly love R.E.M.’s Murmur. I’ve traveled everywhere with it, and have listened to the band’s 1983 debut hundreds of times over the years. It props me up when I’m down and keeps me level when I’m up. I know every Bill Berry drum fill, every guitar sound emitting from Peter Buck’s Rickenbacker, and every intricate bass line and harmony courtesy of Mike Mills. As for R.E.M.’s front man, Michael Stipe, his lyrics on this and other early R.E.M. albums remind me of extended family members. I love them; I just don’t understand what they’re saying most of the time.
I’ve heard songs from Murmur in various forms (live boots, alternate versions, demos, covers, etc.), but what Michael Stipe is or isn’t singing remains the album’s great mystery. The words are left open for the listener to discern, but perhaps I’ve been overanalyzing them this entire time. I knew what I had to do: bring in fellow writers, Dan Caffrey and Dan Pfleegor.
These two gentlemen are novices when it comes to R.E.M., having heard very little, if any, of Murmur over the years. After e-mailing each writer the same specific moments from certain Murmur songs, I requested that they listen to each section no more than twice before attempting to write down what they just heard, followed by a brief explanation of what it could all mean.
What follows is a genuine, fresh perspective on a universally, acclaimed classic. So kick back and prepare to celebrate 30 years of Murmur with Gumby, Kindergarten Cop, Busch Gardens, and Jaws: The Revenge references. Don’t ask. Just read.
– Justin Gerber
Senior Staff Writer
* “Perfect Circle” not included. Those lyrics are pretty easy to figure out.