Normal Edition, Deluxe Coming Soon
Some CDs really deserve to be re-mastered and reissued. When I first reviewed Murmur in 1983 I wrote, "If words were fattening Michael Stipe would weigh at least 300 lbs since he eats so many of his own lyrics." Stipe's mumbled vocals contributed to the atmosphere of the original release, but made singing along with most of the songs impossible. The new remastered deluxe edition of Murmur may not turn Stipe into a master of eloquent diction, but it sure makes it easier to hear and appreciate the album.
Originally REM were marketed as another of the new wave of alternative bands from Athens, Georgia, along with the B-52's, Pylon, and Swimming Pool Cues. But almost from the beginning REM outdistanced these other bands in terms of mass appeal. Murmur was crowned Rolling Stone's "Album of The Year." The combination of Stipe's cryptic lyrics, quirky vocal style and Peter Buck's minimalist yet rhythmically complex guitar parts created a fusion that was familiar yet so fresh that the jaded rock press responded enthusiastically. Even 25 years later Murmur doesn't sound dated or boring. Sure, it's only rock and roll, but REM's songs such as "Talk About The Passion" feature such interesting melody lines that don't go where you expect them to, that even today they are still refreshingly novel.
To celebrate Murmur's twenty-five-year anniversary I.R.S. music has packaged a newly-re-mastered version with a never before released sixteen-song live performance recorded at Larry's Hideaway in Toronto. The live set includes nine of Murmur's twelve songs as well as three songs from REM's earlier EP album Chronic Town and two songs from 1984's Reckoning. The sonics on the live set are actually better than on Murmur, in that Stipe's vocals are clearer and more upfront than on the atmospheric studio mix. I suspect this was a "live board mix" taken from the PA and mixed directly onto two tracks. The backing vocals are a bit louder than might be ideal, and the overall sound is much drier with less reverb than the band might have liked, but this live set makes for a fascinating comparison between the band's actual "live" sound and their more heavily packaged studio efforts. The live version of "Pilgrimage" kicks the studio version's butt.
In 2007 REM was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If you didn't catch them first time around this new deluxe edition of Murmur is the perfect way to find out why they deserve to be there.