'Murmur' at 39: Always in the Present Tense

Here are some thoughts I wrote for my daily online journal just now about ‘Murmur’. I am always struck by its timelessness. I was an 18-year-old kid when I first heard the album in the later summer of 1983, but now, as a 56-year-old man I still hear it without a whiff of nostalgia. Always, Always in the Present Tense


It’s funny how folks have so many different takes, some that leave me scratching my head. It’s not been until recent years but I’ve seen a least a couple people say Murmur sounds dated. It would be interesting to play it for someone that’s never heard it and ask them to guess what year it was recorded. I played it for some friends in the mid-90’s that were familiar with R.E.M. but had never heard Murmur. One of them said it reminded them of the Doors. That’s an observation I haven’t heard much but I have heard it a few times. As it turns out, Don Dixon said his girlfriend at the time said it sounded like the Doors to her.
Just today, I saw someone say they like it quite a bit except for the cryptic lyrics. A member of one of the R.E.M. groups on FB said they don’t like anything before Document because they can’t understand the lyrics. It is difficult to put myself back in the mindset of 20 year old me but to the best of my recollection, I don’t seem to remember paying all that much attention to whether I could make out the lyrics back then. I do recall that no matter what Stipe was singing, it did elicit a strong emotional response from me. As for the “odd” angle, the only thing that seemed odd about them to me was how they sounded like few other artists on the radio at the time. To my ears they had a rootsy, organic sound while most of what was popular was drenched in synths and drum machines.


Yeah, I don’t get the “dated” accusation about Murmur at all. I feel just the opposite. It feels so timeless to me. But I was getting deeper and deeper into it in real time before Reckoning was released and I think that has something to do with my feelings about it. I had no preconceived notions about what R.E.M. was “supposed” to sound like.

As for me calling them an odd little band, I think that might have been because I had gotten even the somewhat quirkier bands that I liked at the time – Blondie, Talking Heads, Devo, etc. – via their radio hits. R.E.M. is the closest I can come to liking a band from the ground up, though it’s not like I was at the church in April 1980.

Anyway, thanks for reading!


Compared to the auto-tuned, compressed, etc. music today, Murmur sounds dated. Which is a compliment.

I’ve always said the majority of the IRS catalogue is utterly timeless. You could tell someone who’d never heard them they were recorded yesterday or the 1960s and they wouldn’t bat an eyelid. I certainly think the 1980s would be the last decade someone would pick as the music is so out of sync with most things happening in that era. This is in contrast to the early-mid 90s Warner stuff which feels very of its era in retrospect. Just my opinion and not aimed at the timelessness of the songs, but I think it’s partly the production and partly how overplayed they were at the time. It’s hard for them not to scream early 90s when they became such an overwhelming soundtrack to the era.

The only IRS album I feel Is ever so slightly of its time is Document. Again, i think it’s mainly down to the production but I always get a hint of that sort of Simple Minds-esque sound. It is subtle and maybe it’s just me, but I do hear a late 80s-ness to it. At least they didn’t go with the Horn version of Worksong. It’d be significantly less subtle if they did.