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R.E.M.'s Murmur (33 1/3) [Kindle Edition]

J. Niimi
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

R.E.M.’s debut album, released in 1983, was so far removed from the prevailing trends of American popular music that it still sounds miraculous and out of time today. J. Niimi tells the story of the album’s genesis – with fascinating input from Don Dixon and Mitch Easter. He also investigates Michael Stipe’s hypnotic, mysterious lyrics, and makes the case for Murmur as a work of Southern Gothic art.EXCEPRT:In the course of an interview that took place some twenty years ago, Michael Stipe made passing reference to an essay that had a deep impact on him. It’s what came to his mind when, after having been harangued by fans and journalists alike about Murmur’s lyrics, already grown weary from having to continually entertain their broad speculations, he finally threw up his hands. “Anyone who really wants to figure out the words to our songs should probably read this essay, then go back and listen,” Stipe told the interviewer. “It talks about how people misinterpret something that’s being said, and come up with a little phrase or word that actually defines the essence of what the original was better than the original did.” What Stipe was trying to say is that if you want answers to R.E.M., you’re not only looking in the wrong place, you’re also asking the wrong questions.

Editorial Reviews


"33 1/3 is a fabulous series written with passion by an equally fabulous cross-secton of today's best music journalists. This series is a must for every serious record nerd out there! And I know the nerds agree with me cause I'm having trouble keeping them on the shelves." -Edmund LeStrange, Book Buyer for Waterloo Records

Mentioned –Philadelphia Weekly

“…Murmur is a lovingly rendered, well-researched look at R.E.M’s album of the same name, a gothic-tinged anomaly that seemed to come out of nowhere amid the New Wave avalanche of the early ‘80s…illuminating.” –Cincinnati City Beat, May 2005

“I’ll leave the in-depth analysis of the record to Niimi, but trust me, this is a title worth reading more about...even if you still hate R.E.M. for unleashing that debacle called “Shiny Happy People.” –Radio Free Chicago, May 2005

"…the book does a good job of bringing the reader into the world of R.E.M. and the circumstances surrounding their official full-length debut album which changed the music world. A must-read for fans." -- Mish Mash Music Reviews, July 2005 (Mish Mash Music Reviews )

“…the book goes a considerable distance towards explaining how this enduringly astonishing album happened.” –Uncut, October 2005 (Uncut )

"…the book does a good job of bringing the reader into the world of R.E.M. and the circumstances surrounding their official full-length debut album which changed the music world. A must-read for fans." -- Mish Mash Music Reviews, July 2005 (, )


"'A brilliant idea' The Times; 'Neat' Nick Hornby; 'Pocket-size books about favourite albums is a nice idea, akin to TV's Classic Albums and with an equal amount of care and attention.' The Guardian (Friday Review)"

Product Details

  • File Size: 1743 KB
  • Print Length: 162 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0826416721
  • Publisher: Continuum (April 28, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B006H2R27O
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,071,051 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprisingly thought provoking December 2, 2005
I really didn't expect much when a friend guided me to this book. All he mentioned was the track by track analysis of instrumentation and arrangement. But the amazing part of this book is the latter section dealing with language and the effectiveness of non-linear, yet familiar lyrics in evoking feelings beyond logic and language. I became consciously aware of an intuitive process through the shared experience of the record and the author's thoughtful considerations. Quite a bargain for the price!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best R.E.M. book yet July 16, 2005
This book on Murmur is a great read. I am glad i stumbled on it at the check out counter of my favorite record store.

Mr. Niimi captured the record's weird and intangible magic, not

an easy feat. He did a particularly good job examining Bill Berry's

unusual playing style and incalculable contribution to not

only R.E.M.'s sound but compositions. Even though Niimi himself is a drummer, he explains things in a manner any non-musician will appreciate.

He also got some great quotes out of producers Don Dixon and Mitch

Easter as he delved into the details of the making of the record. Along the way he tells the terrific story of R.E.M.s rapid rise from Athens bar band to architects of the college rock, indie rock explosion of the '80s.

I followed R.E.M. very closely in this time frame and the author captures the feeling and emotional impact that R.E.M. had on its fans quite well. The book brought back many good memories. I highly recommend it to both the casual and serious R.E.M. fan.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Salad Days Revisited June 9, 2005
I'm a big fan of the 33 1/3 Series from Continuum Books and J Niimi's MURMUR is a fine addition. One problem I have with books of this ilk is the tendency to emphasize studio craft and the technical aspect of the making of a record over the content and emotional effect of the music. Mr Niimi avoids this nicely- although all the studio tricks are exposed in their entirety! Its also a great look back at the times and trends that produced this fine record.

After reading the book I put the record on and, after wading through the inevitable waves of nostalgia, rediscovered a great band and record that I haven't listened to for far too long.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Key to the Album March 11, 2007
Even twenty plus years on, Murmur is still as hauntingly evocative as it was on its release. The novelty of the sound has diminished with the passage of time, but the details still compel -- the subdued, echoing vocals at the beginning of Pilgrimage, the backwards guitar in Perfect Circle, the strange instrumental bit between Shaking Through and We Walk, even the eerie images on the album cover. Niimi's book is a unique in-depth look at the the Murmur recording sessions, and the environment that gave birth to it. It is utterly indispensable reading for anyone touched by the album, or the band.

Niimi is at home in the recording studio, and provides a blow by blow account of the production details. I'd recommend reading it as you listen to the album - details buried in the song will emerge that you hadn't notice before. Throughout, we get a sense of the band's breathtaking originality and willingness to take risks. Buck and Stipe's contributions are well-known, but Niimi highlights the unique contributions of less obvious figures. Mitch Easter's production flourishes are all over the album, and are responsible for much of its unique, timeless quality; Easter and Don Dixon's song sequencing gives the album a strong, novelistic flow; and Bill Berry emerges as the unsuing genius of R.E.M., as composer and multi-instrumentalist.

I've read a number of books in the 33 1/3 series, and to my mind they should all be like this one. When you love an album, you want to get into it as deeply as you can. Niimi's meticulously-researched, vividly written work says all that needs to be said about the album and its unique place in rock history.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Arguably the most profound 33 1/3 Book August 14, 2006
"Murmur" was extremely important to me when it was released and over the past 20+ years, so I avoided this volume of the exquisite 33 1/3 series for a while. I wasn't familiar with Niimi's writing at the time, and had too many passionate feelings of my own about the album's psychogeography and visionary expressionism to tolerate someone so much younger doing a hack job. After skimming over the excellent lyrical analysis and the origin of kudzu as 'background' for the musical milieu behind the record's imagery, I knew I had to own this 33 1/3 as well. It turned out to be a must re-read last year, just as "Murmur" itself was placed time and time again on my turntable the hot summer it was released in the mid-80s. I kept Niimi's sweet tome in the pockets of my baggy pants for weeks, his creative extrapolations of the album's content and musical statements roiling around in my mind at bus stops covered in debris and fauna, skimmed again and again before sets bands played at clubs. A perfect read for a perfect album -- I actually think new copies of "Murmur" should be sold with the book inside the cellophane.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Book on Rock and Culture by an Excellent Writer September 13, 2005
There are so many things that I like about MURMUR, J. Niimi's recent book on R.E.M.'s legendary 1983 album of the same name, that I scarcely know where to begin.

On one hand, there's the crisp organization. This compact book is broken into four chapters that provide in efficient succession (1) crucial background information on the band and the album, especially the technical aspects of the latter's production; (2) a song-by-song and line-by-line perspective on an album whose expressionistic and often absurdist lyrics are famously difficult to understand and/or to ascertain; (3) a reading of (and, perhaps more importantly, "a listening to") the album that emphasizes ideas of the sublime and positions this work of musical art as an instance of the Southern Gothic impulse as filtered through the ephemera of the 1980s; and (4) a second reading of the album that accents the semiotic and the linguistic, examining MURMUR and its lyrics through, among other things, the lens of Walker Percy's essay "Metaphor as Mistake." There is also a very useful appendix in which Mr. Niimi supplies and in some cases reconstructs the album's lyrics. If you like the album, this appendix is worth the cost of the book.

I have little patience for baggy monsters and loose piles of crud prefaced by a title page and, less often, a preface. Mr. Niimi's organization is, happily, nothing if not tight and craftmanlike--no bags, no monsters, no crud. But what is most admirable about Mr. Niimi's structure is that it acts as a control on the very best aspect of the author's book, i.e.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
This was a gift...
Published 22 days ago by T. Siblo
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 1 month ago by Kenny Dalglish
5.0 out of 5 stars The story behind "Radio Free Europe" and how the album came to be is a...
A intriguing and quirky book about an intriguing and quirky album. The story behind "Radio Free Europe" and how the album came to be is a great read. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Brad Kyker
5.0 out of 5 stars Careful and close critique
This is a thoughtful, thoroughly engrossing "close reading/listening" of a music album, tackling the art, the lyrics, and the music systematically. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Eliphas Levi
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read about R.E.M.'s first and best album
Let me begin by saying that I can't imagine my life without R.E.M. Back in the 80s, the Athens quartet taught me everything I needed to know about what it meant to do things on my... Read more
Published 23 months ago by drpaulgleason
1.0 out of 5 stars mer rumrum
its difficult to appreciate a book written in the style of no-wave dadfa enhanced mutuality before the settlement of refugees.
Published on January 29, 2012 by gcd
4.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for R.E.M. fans
When it was released in 1983, R.E.M.'s first album, Murmur, immediately became one of my favorites. Sounding (and looking) completely unlike anything else at the time, the songs... Read more
Published on February 26, 2011 by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars A disappointment, but worth a look for fans of the album
The first thing to know about the 33 1/3 series is that since each book is written by a different author, they will each have its own tone, style, and in some cases, format. Read more
Published on June 17, 2010 by P. J. Owen
1.0 out of 5 stars A waste of time
I was very disappointed in this book. I find it written in a thick and pretentious style that's impossible to glide through without stumbling. Read more
Published on June 15, 2010 by Michigan BADMO
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Book About R.E.M. out there.
The definitive book about R.E.M. happens to be Murmur, by J. Niimi, from the learned and much lauded 33 1/3 series of slim volumes about great albums, printed by Continuum Books. Read more
Published on August 21, 2008 by James R. Francis
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