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Music / Murmur

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Broadcast from Radio Free Europe.

Murmur, released in 1983, is the debut album from R.E.M., a foursome based in Athens, Georgia, following their 1982 EP Chronic Town. The band's label IRS had initially wanted a more typically New Wave Music record and set them up with producer Stephen Hague, later known for producing Pet Shop Boys, Erasure and New Order. Unhappy with the results so far REM held out for the right to record with Mitch Easter and Don Dixon, two Southern musicians they knew and respected. The resulting album became one of the seminal releases in Jangle Pop and Alternative Indie in general.

In 2009 the song "Radio Free Europe" was added to the National Recording Registry for being "historically, culturally and aesthetically important". The album was listed at nr. #197 in Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.



Side One

  1. "Radio Free Europe" – 4:06
  2. "Pilgrimage" – 4:30
  3. "Laughing" – 3:57
  4. "Talk About the Passion" – 3:23
  5. "Moral Kiosk" – 3:31
  6. "Perfect Circle" – 3:29

Side Two

  1. "Catapult" – 3:55
  2. "Sitting Still" – 3:17
  3. "9–9" – 3:03
  4. "Shaking Through" – 4:30
  5. "We Walk" – 3:02
  6. "West of the Fields" – 3:17

Radio Free Tropes

  • Alliterative Title: "We Walk".
  • Echoing Acoustics: There is a lot of reverb and odd sound on the album. The closer "West of the Fields" is a sterling example.
    • "We Walk" features lots of thunderous noise throughout, though the actual noise itself isn't thunder — it's a recording of then-drummer Bill Berry playing pool. Producer Mitch Easter recorded the billiard balls hitting at a sped-up pace, then slowed the tape down and added reverb.
  • Gratuitous French: "Talk About the Passion" has "Combien de temps?", translating to "For how long?"
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: A field of kudzu is the only thing depicted on the album (aside from the band's name and title).
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  • Non-Appearing Title: As far as one can tell the word "murmur" doesn't appear in any song's lyrics, although it's a fair descriptor of some of Michael Stipe's vocals. Stipe has said the album was named as such because the word "murmur" is " of the six easiest words to say in the English language."
  • Not Christian Rock: "Pilgrimage" and "Talk About the Passion" both have religious-sounding titles, but their subject matter has more to do with personal quests that Judeo-Christian ones.
  • One-Word Title: Aside from Murmur itself there's also "Pilgrimage", "Laughing", and "Catapult".
  • Protest Song: "Radio Free Europe" has something to do with foreign affairs, although the impressionistic lyrics downplay the protest angle.
  • Real Is Brown: The album cover shows a dry brown-green field overgrown with kudzu.
  • Rearrange the Song: "Radio Free Europe" was a re-recording of the band's first single, released on Hib-Tone back in 1981. "Sitting Still", one of said single's B-sides, is also featured on the album, largely unchanged from its 1981 recording except for a re-tuning of the background vocals and Mike Mills re-recording his bass line.
  • Shout-Out: The "Take oasis, Marat's bathing" in "We Walk" is a reference to French Revolution figure Jean Marat and the play Marat/Sade.
    • "Laughing" references Laocoön, a figure in Greek and Roman mythology, who had two sons who were devoured by serpents with him. The song, however, Gender Flips him and renders him female.
  • Socially Awkward Hero: The clearest lyric in "9-9" is "conversation fear". Stipe himself has said the topic of the song is "conversation and fear of conversation."
  • Something Something Leonard Bernstein: The band would provide the Trope Namer later on, so it's not too surprising a lot of the lyrics are hard to make out...
    • Word Salad Lyrics: ... and once you have an idea what they are, it's still up in the air what a lot of them really mean?
      • Stipe has flat-out said in interviews that the song "Sitting Still" literally has no lyrics, calling the words he's singing "an embarrassing collection of vowels strung together." This was lampshaded after its performance on the Live at the Olympia 2-CD set, where Stipe (who's been singing the lyrics from a website) notes the comment made at the end of the lyric set:
    Stipe: (reading) "Note: These lyrics are approximations. Stipe himself has no idea what he says." Thank you, search engine!
  • Title-Only Chorus: "Catapult"
  • The Unintelligible: This is where Michael Stipe got this reputation, as he mumbled his lyrics on the album.


Example of: