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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ghosts Of Punch, December 1, 2008
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This review is from: Murmur [Deluxe Edition] (Audio CD)
Not too many bands over the last forty years or so have come out of the gate with an introductory LP with such a lasting impact as: "Murmur".
This record created something entirely different in 1983, it was rock as much as it was pop, and it wasn't even close to anything else released during the early eighties. The biggest kicker to the whole deal was that R.E.M. came from a small town in Georgia.

How in the world, can an album fit in between Molly Hatchet & Thriller? How can mumbled/mixed down vocals and chiming Rickenbacker guitars hold their own next to moonwalking and 27 minute jams of: "Whipping Post?" Well, R.E.M. was about unknown to everyone north of Richmond, Virginia and south of Jacksonville, Florida in early 1983, when IRS thrust this force onto a world of folks that were dying to be freed from the onslaught of drum machines and synths and crummy white-bread R & B, that at the time, seemed endless and unrelenting.

I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time on the coast of Virginia when this storm surged right at us. "Radio Free Europe" was already all over the good radio staions in southlands, and this single was very...well, it was great! The "Chronic Town" EP was in record stores with that bored gargoyle on a cool blue record sleeve. Something really different was happening here, catchy songs and an air of freshness was blowing out the pomp and excesses of the 1970's.

Disc One: "Murmur"
The big issue here with the 1983 recording, will be of course the concern over the sound of this, the re-mastered edition of 2008. To my old ears, this version is not that much different from the original record. What is of notice, is the the bass guitar is punching and pounding at the woofers of my speakers. The bass drum is a force as well, {and I have always thought the drumming by Bill Berry, was about as great as it gets.} There is a bigger brightness and clarity to the guitars, and Michael has been brought up a little more forward out of the original mix. Yes, this is the same record that I listened to 25 years ago, but now it is a whole lot BIGGER.

Out of the 35 or so songs that the band brought to the studios to use for this project, they did indeed pick 12 unique and timeless pieces to present their music to an unsuspecting world. "Pilgrimage", "Laughing", "9-9", "Talk About The Passion" "West Of The Fields" and "Catapult" are timeless gems and mature works for a band of two and a half years running. There is an updated, and more fully formed version of: "Radio Free Europe" here that is a bit different from the original single version of two years earlier. This album comes alive in the new mix, as it has been rescued from a swampy kudzu landscape under a railroad trestle.

Disc Two: "Live In Toronto {1983}"
Between 1980 and 1983, R.E.M. spent more time on the road than they would ever attempt again. First near Athens, then into South & North Carolina and Tennessee. They performed in small towns that had never hosted a big-name rock band. Word spread quickly that this was a band to see perform live. Dates in California, New York and Boston followed over the next two years. By summer of 1983, R.E.M. entered Canada for the first time and played their first show in Toronto at Larry's Hideway.

There are 16 songs on the live CD and it clocks in at 57 minutes. This is taken from the 60 minute FM radio broadcast of the show. Over the past two and a half decades, bootlegs of this night have appeared in LP, cassette and CD formats. The set opener: "Wolves, Lower" isn't on here, this CD starts at the opening of: "Laughing" and there is no sign of "Moral Kiosk" on this as well. This was a good night, but the cover songs that normally comprise a big part of R.E.M.'s live work are not a part of this show, because the FM market was hearing strictly band composed material, a proper strategy to win over a new audience.

Live R.E.M. in the early eighties is a raw punk driven force of noise and frantic energy, that is very fun to be a part of. Getting to pogo infront of one of those low stages, in sweaty clubs and dancehalls with a few hundred other lucky souls, {my night was: Virginia Beach in The Pavilion, with the Dream Syndicate as openers, on a hot summer night in 1984.} was a concert highlight, that is very difficult to forget.

The live CD is great to have in much improved sound quality over the boots, but when you realize what was not included here, you will be begging for more complete shows from 1981-1985 to see the light of an official release. Most of: "Murmur" is here, as is most of: "Chronic Town" also included are: "Harborcoat" & "7 Chinese Bros." from the then unreleased second LP: "Reckoning". This is a fine document of one of hundreds of nights on the road from the band's early days together, but I could go for listening to tapes of about 99 more shows from the first five years, and be very happy indeed!

This record was one of the very best released in the eighties {as was: "Reckoning" & "Fables Of The Reconstruction."} A bunch of groups that came after R.E.M. owe them a lot of thank's, for all those miles they traveled on back roads throughout the south with Jefferson at the wheel of that old station wagon. We got lucky here with this great band in 1983, this is what got a lot of us through the eighties...real music!
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 13, 2010 3:28:18 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 13, 2010 3:31:02 PM PDT
Your review echoed many of my sentiments about R.E.M. and about Murmur. One of the truly great albums of the 1980's. I remember buying Chronic Town, (on vinyl of course) after hearing the song Carnival of sorts (Box Cars) on WBRU in Providence, R.I. in 1981. I knew right away that this band actually meant something. When they followed up Chronic Town with Murmur, the promise of that earlier EP was just magnified 1000 times. I played the vinyl every day for weeks. Thanks for sharing your memories. I really enjoyed your review. It's nice to hear such passion about one the best bands of the last 30 years. Thanks again.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 10, 2010 10:54:35 AM PDT
Professor ~

I thank you for stopping by, and posting those kind words.
R.E.M. could be the greatest American band of the last 30 years...
For me, they are.
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