March 19, 2008

Shaking Through the R.E.M. Wall

In the past three weeks I've become completely immersed in Murmur. I can't stop listening to it. I can't stop humming its tunes. Its choruses are in constant rotation in my head. My dreams contain its melodies. It's a new discovery, a revelation and acceptance of a group and a sound that I never wanted to understand or spend any time with. What was my problem(s)?

Let's recap Murmur first. The album is flawless. It's mesmerizing, it envelopes the being, sucks you into its heart and refuses to let you go. It's lithe, willowy, and steadfast; urgent, measured and soft; meaningful and meaningless, epic, understated, and restrained; longing, yearning, and self-confident; complex and so very, very, simple.

It's the perfect pop album. It's the perfect place to start listening.

It's Michael Stipe without the blue eye mask, with long hair, with only a tad bit of the pomposity but the full dosage of romanticism. Nevertheless, on record he doesn't sound any different than he would today. He doesn't sound any more mature on Murmur. Not one bit more learned, not one bit more full of understanding. In 1983 he sounded old and sage-like, much closer in age to his 48-year old self today than a sensitive 22-year old about to announce himself to the world at large.

The rest of the band was no different. Their sound was self-assured almost to the point of self-actualization. This was how their souls sounded, they knew it and they would never feel any need to change. And I guess this was always the beginning of my self-imposed no-R.E.M. wall: they sound old.

This kid always thought "Talk About the Passion," "Fall On Me," "It's The End of The World," "Losing My Religion," etc. ad nauseam sounded like old people's songs. And not the cool older cousin kind of older person's song, more like a song for your parents or your authority figures. R.E.M. felt like it was music for and by those disaffected baby boomers who came just a tad bit too late to protest in 1968 but just soon enough to be memorialized by Richard Linklater in the 1976-set Dazed and Confused.

Heck, I've always blamed R.E.M. for making KRS-One old and stodgy before his time. Pop Song '89 why did you have to happen! I still can't accept the fact that KRS was only five years younger than Stipe at that time. Impossible!

Pop Song '89's painful juxtaposition of my beloved new, young, exciting, Gen-X musical form with twangy old-person's gentle and bordering on adult contemporary guitar rock told me everything I needed to know about R.E.M. I was never going to like them. My musical taste was also never going to get old. I would never let it happen.

Well, it's happened. This week in fact while Murmur's been on heavy rotation. Thing is, their accept at all costs musical maturity isn't really that bad. It's beautiful, it's peaceful, and it's nice. That doesn't mean I'm going to start liking Automatic for the People or any Steely Dan album for that matter.

I really really mean it this time. I really do.

5 comments:

The RIpple Effect said...

Near perfect and totally under rated, I agree. I remember when I was a DJ and it first came into the radio station, it was a revelation. Check out REM's first EP, Chronic Town also, it came out before Murmur with the same shimmering guitar and muted vocal. That one blew me away.

The Ripple Effect
www.ripplemusic.blogspot.com

The RIpple Effect said...

Near perfect and totally under rated, I agree. I remember when I was a DJ and it first came into the radio station, it was a revelation. Check out REM's first EP, Chronic Town also, it came out before Murmur with the same shimmering guitar and muted vocal. That one blew me away.

The Ripple Effect
www.ripplemusic.blogspot.com

The RIpple Effect said...

Near perfect and totally under rated, I agree. I remember when I was a DJ and it first came into the radio station, it was a revelation. Check out REM's first EP, Chronic Town also, it came out before Murmur with the same shimmering guitar and muted vocal. That one blew me away.

The Ripple Effect
www.ripplemusic.blogspot.com

Eurowags said...

Venerable, I totally agree about the melodies getting stuck in your head. I have been going some two weeks now with a couple of the Murmur tracks in my head. Very good barrage of adjectives to describe the album.

Good point about the musical quality of the band at that time. Many talk about this album and the band being part of the D.I.Y aesthetic, but they sound rather well tuned and skilled for that.

And, who is drinking Fred Sanford's ripple and telling about its effects.

litbylightning said...

I agree on most counts. Murmur is a true classic. But I also think Automatic is a sad, poetic and wrenched a certain rawness few bands attain — Nightswimming being possibly the most beautiful song I've ever heard.