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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, indie label I.R.S. Records, 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. The sessions with Hague turned out to be a nightmare, with him verbally abusing the band, demanding an incessant number of takes for "Catapult", and adding Echoing Acoustics and synthesizer flourishes (an apparent attempt to get the song to sound like Joy Division) that went against the band's ethos.

Understandably displeased with this environment, R.E.M. held out for the right to record with Mitch Easter and Don Dixon, two Southern musicians they knew and respected; Easter had also produced the band's earlier debut single "Radio Free Europe" from 1981 as well as Chronic Town, and the good working relationship they had with him led the band to heavily prefer Easter over Hague. The resulting album became one of the seminal releases in Jangle Pop and Alternative Indie in general.

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Murmur produced two singles: "Radio Free Europe" (a re-recording of their 1981 debut) and "Talk About the Passion".

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 and was certified gold (sales of at least 500,000 copies) by the RIAA. It is currently the 69th-most-acclaimed album of all time according to Acclaimed Music's compendium of various critics' lists.

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Tracklist

Side One (unlabeled)

  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 (unlabeled)

  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)

Wheeeeeeeen we were little tropes...

  • Alliterative Title: "We Walk".
  • Compilation Re-release: The album was rereleased with the Chronic Town EP and Reckoning in LP replica sleeves as part of The Originals box set in Europe in 1995.
  • Echoing Acoustics: There is a lot of reverb and odd sound on the album to give Martin Hannett a run for his money. The closer "West of the Fields" is a sterling example. Interestingly, the sessions with Stephen Hague led to the latter outright attempting to get R.E.M. to sound like bands such as Joy Division and The Cure, but his heavy liberties with the studio recordings led to the band axing him, having already grown weary of his dictatorial production methods.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: "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?"
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: LP copies don't label the sides, leaving the track listing on the cover to determine the proper running order.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: A field of kudzu is the only thing depicted on the album (aside from the band's name and title).
  • Motor Mouth: The intro and bridge of "9-9" feature a few spoken lines delivered at top speed by Stipe in the background. Carefully close listening reveals, among other things, a spin on the "Now I lay me down to sleep" bedtime prayer.
  • Never Heard That One Before: Many reviewers joked that the album should have been titled Mumble due to Stipe's slurred delivery, which irritated the band.
  • 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 "...one 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 Records 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.
  • Record Producer: Mitch Easter and Don Dixon.
  • 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; all three were devoured by serpents. 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.
      • Word Puree Lyrics: Stipe has flat-out said in interviews that "Sitting Still" literally has no lyrics (besides maybe "I can hear you") 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.

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