College rock's starting point.
In retrospect, it's hard to remember just how strange Murmur sounded when it came out in the spring of 1983. Released at the peak of the first wave of excitement over MTV and the glossy, synth-driven British pop stars it introduced to America's living rooms, this album couldn't have been less on point: four scruffy guys from the relative backwater of Athens, Georgia, playing guitar-based music behind a lead singer whose kinda whiny/mumbly delivery even further obscured his all but impenetrable lyrics. ("We could gather/Throw a fit"? Really?) But it was just different enough, in the right ways, to sound refreshing instead of retro. And crucially, the songs were amazing: every single song on side one, from the single "Radio Free Europe" (one of those rare re-recordings of an earlier single version that actually improves on the original) to the gorgeous piano ballad "Perfect Circle," is an instant classic. The more experimental flipside is arguably weaker, though weird little tracks like the psychedelic-dub "9-9" and the nursery-rhyme-like "We Walk" hint at how the band would expand their sonic arsenal over upcoming albums. Peter Buck's guitar style was adopted immediately by a generation of underground college rockers, but his trademark arpeggiated riffs (as heavily influenced by The Soft Boys as they were The Byrds, although reviewers at the time focused solely on the '60s aspects) and circular melodies still sound fresh decades later. A 25th-anniversary two-disc deluxe edition released in 2008 adds a raucous 1983 concert and remixes the original album in a more conventional fashion that brings forward Bill Berry's drums and Mike Mills' bass and centers Michael Stipe's voice in the mix: this version emphasizes the band's debt to their post-punk forebears, but it's more of an interesting curio. The hazy, inscrutable original version is the one to love.
|Radio Free Europe|