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I spent the last month listening to every REM studio album in chronological order - Murmur

This is going to be a series, where I talk about all the things I did during the covid-19 crisis, while other people learned a new skill.

REM has always been my favourite band. I just relate to the awkward dorkiness and complete failure at being cool. At Christmas I finally digitalised my CD collection, including my collection of REM albums. I realised 2 things:

1. My sister (Susanne!!!) abducted my copy of Out of Time to India.
2. There are some REM albums I have never listened to.

So I used the time I had in the office, working on excel sheets, to listen to all the REM albums, starting with Murmer. I'm going to give a short overview over each studio album in the upcoming weeks?, months? years? and say what I think about each.

I'm going to start by talking about Gardening at Night, which is not on Murmur, but on the EP Chronic Town before Murmur which is not part of this list. Gardening at Night is one of my favourite REM songs (and one of their favourite songs as well!) and to me a must have.
This song is where they found their sound. Buck's folky - arpeggiated guitar style, Mills' melodic base guitar, Stipe and Mills harmonizing in the chorus and Bill Berry's drumming (I don't know anything about percussion, so this is the last I will say about it), it's all there. The only difference is Stipes singing, on the EP version he sings in a strange falsetto, which he fortunately dropped quickly and for this reason I prefer the live version, which is on my special edition of Murmur.
Go and listen to it. Now you know how early IRS year REM sounds like and if you like it, you will like Murmur. It has some generally great songs (9-9, Sitting Still, Moral Kiosk, Perfect Circle). In some songs Stipe's voice is mixed into the background (his choice, he treated his voice more like one of the instruments in the early years), which adds to the illegibility of the lyrics on the album (Murmer indeed). As Stipe became more confident with being a front man they stopped doing it. Last I can remember is on Monster (Let me in) and there it is more of a stylistic choice and great.

Special shout outs to:

  • all the great base lines and arpeggios

  • the either deep or completely nonsensical lyrics (Stipe himself says they are just random words, which has not stopped fans from analysing them), which in later years will become more topical as Stipes confidence as song writer grew

  • Stipe and Mills harmonizing in the chorus of Moral Kiosk (the way their voices harmonize is really unique to REM and a key part of their sound)

  • how freaking beautiful Prefect Circle is. It's written by Bill Berry, who will not get much attention from me in this list as I know nothing of percussion. They usually do not say who is the main song writer of a song (credits are always all of them), but after Bill Berry left the band, they have been playing this song in his memory (? he is not dead, I don't know how else to say it though)

  • 9-9, for the crazy base and guitar rhythmic section driving the song and the murmerest of murmery lyrics, where literally only "conversation fear" is understandable

  • Closing thoughts: Is it an album every music collection needs? Nahh, if you like early 80's alternative rock or are really into REM, but otherwise only Gardening at Night (live) is a must have. It's not my favourite from the IRS years, but I keep forgetting how great 9-9 is, mainly because Feeling Gravity's Pull exists, but more about that when I talk about Fables of the Reconstruction.

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