Over the past year I've really learnt to not only appreciate alternative music, but accept it as one of my favourite genres of music. Granted, the majority of the bands and albums are of the 90's variety, and it is likely that I've been exposed to said bands before I actively sought out the genre. That said, despite my affinity to the more polished, digestible acts I indirectly grew up with, I still maintain a slight fascination with some of the genre's earlier groups. One of the first of such bands I decided to check out was R.E.M. One of the first alternative acts to gain popularity in the college rock scene of the 80's, the band has released a series of rather successful albums which have managed to get the American band hailed as one of the pioneers of the genre, despite their varying levels of quality. Leading the way as one of the finer studio albums in their discography is Murmur, R.E.M.'s highly praised debut album.
It isn't quite difficult to see why Murmur is so well liked. The forty-four minute album is chock full of jangling guitars, infectious melodies, and simple, yet effective song writing. Another element, perhaps just as important as the jangling guitars, is the vocals of Michael Stipe. Technically speaking, Stipe isn't among the strongest singers around, but his almost murmured vocal efforts compliment the other musicians rather well. Similarly to the guitars, the drumming and bass work are both rather simple as they serve to add both rhythm and extra depth to the music. The result, of course, is a quite interesting. R.E.M. maintains a tight performance throughout each of the tracks, and the band manages to connect each moment together superbly. The album varies between fast paced, catchy tracks such as Talk About the Passion and Radio Free Europe as well as slower, more emotional offerings such as Perfect Circle without disrupting the flow of the album.
Murmur's greatest strengths, however, lie in the emotions it conjures up. Despite the slight musical differences between the album's 12 tracks, they all share a very laidback atmosphere. Even in the catchier moments, R.E.M.'s jangle pop sensibilities provide with quite the relaxing listen. For lack of better words, Murmur is a fun album to just sit back and chill out to. The lower ranged vocal coos of Michael Stipe fit such attitudes, as he sounds almost carefree in his delivery. His singing varies very little throughout the record, yet surprisingly this is more beneficial to Murmur than it would be otherwise. Stipe's singing, along with the contributions from the other three band members, has a very stripped down, almost lazy feel to it. Such song writing tendencies help R.E.M. convey the rather listenable, laidback attitudes of the album exceedingly well.
Despite a few weaker releases later in their career, such as the chart topping Out of Time, R.E.M. was at one time one of the better bands in the early alternative scene. Their combination of relaxing jangle pop and stripped down college rock produces quite the interesting sound. The band's debut album contains a series of similar sounding, yet musically differing songs, most of which are appealing from a technical standpoint and an entertaining standpoint. The Radio Free Europes and Talk About the Passions of the album show off the poppier side of early R.E.M., while the likes of 9-9 and Laughing show off the more musically interesting aspect of the band's music. But my favourite aspect of Murmur by far is the uplifting, laidback feelings which it expresses. This, coupled with the virtual lack of filler tracks makes R.E.M.'s first full length album quite the fun listen, and definitely worth looking into.
Talk About the Passion
Radio Free Europe