I didn't purchase this album when released, but my friend Jim did. He played it for me and I immediately took his album home to dub it to a cassette (I can still picture the BASF C-90 in my head but I have no idea what I put on the flip side of that tape). I had never heard anything like it and it would be a while until I did. The jangly guitars, mumbled vocals (see below), and unpolished garage band production were different enough in 1983 and while there's nothing special about the chord progressions, the writing is good throughout. Sounds as good to me now as it did in '83. Which bassist Mike Mills claims was the point:
Murmur was meant to be a record that, when you heard it later, you couldn't tell when it had been made, you could only remember. #timeless— Mike Mills (@m_millsey) April 13, 2017
Of course, it's easy to make such a claim 34 years after the fact, but that doesn't change the fact that this album is indeed timeless, classic, and influential. And while I shouldn't let such things bother me, why do people constantly talk about deciphering the lyrics on this album? Hell, I read the 33⅓ book about the album and not only was most of the book about the mumbled lyrics, the final 16 pages are the author's personal transcription of said lyrics. What a waste. I can't recommend the book to you.
So here's my thoughts on the lyrics of this album: I don't care what they are. My theory is that Stipe wasn't particularly proud of his lyrics so he mumbled them to intentionally make them indecipherable. And I'm sure he is amused at all the attention people pay to them.
Robert Christgau knew what he was talking about (although I'll admit he had 'em figured out long before I did):
Peak on the US Billboard Top 200 chart: #36
Peak on Cash Box album chart: #37
Tracks: The best track is now and has always been Radio Free Europe, but dig most of the album including Pilgrimage, Moral Kiosk, Catapult, and We Walk. I'll confess to regularly ending the album after 11 songs and not listening to West Of The Fields.
Personal Memory Associated with this CD: I remember listening to Murmur in the Markmobile in high school and getting the second track, Pilgrimage, stuck in my head and singing that throughout the school day. I got in trouble for singing in more than one class that day.
With its kudzu-covered photo, Murmur has one of my favorite album covers of all time. Not that it is an especially attractive image, but it perfectly captures the mood of the music.
Previously revisited for the blog:
Lifes Rich Pageant (1986)