R.E.M.’s full-length debut, Murmur, which came out 25 years ago, set the standard for many alternative/college bands and rock albums to come. The sound from that album was the antithesis of the popular music in the early ‘80s—it was minimalist (no bloated, overextended guitar solos or synths); the lyrics were self-conscious and vague didn’t make much sense; and Michael Stipe’s raspy, almost talk-singing was unlike anything in rock before. In other words it was totally anti-commercial, yet melodic too. From top to bottom Murmur is an absolutely perfect album containing the band’s best song “Radio Free Europe” along with rockers “Catapult,” “Laughing,” and “Pilgrimage.” Yet the Athens, Georgia band was also capable of churning out thoughtful music in addition to the garage-sounding stuff such as the gorgeous “Sitting Still” and “Talk About the Passion.” This deluxe edition comes with a second disc of a 1983 Toronto show—sans the arena trappings that would come later— in which the band not only plays a majority of Murmur’s songs but also tracks from the Chronic Town EP and the next album Reckoning: “7 Chinese Brothers,” “Gardening at Night,” “Carnival of Sorts,” as well as a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “There She Goes Again.” It’s a fascinating glimpse of R.E.M.’s live chops early in the group’s history.
See R.E.M. perform “Radio Free Europe” on David Letterman: