Like Chronic Town before it, Murmur hasn’t aged badly, if at all, in the very, very nearly 30 years since its release. Not that it sounds new, in any way. There’s a certain old-timeyness, a pleasingly analogue feel, perhaps as a result of the band’s “no sequencers, no synths” determination, perhaps from the band’s singular approach and desire to do just whatever worked for them, and not do whatever didn’t: Bill Berry insisting, for example, on recording in a drummer’s booth – a practice even then already outdated.
Or perhaps because it’s just a really magnificent collection of songs from start to end. Having fallen out with IRS’s original choice of producer, R.E.M. turned to Mitch Easter again, who, with help from Don Dixon, once more coaxed the best out of the band. At this point I believe the standard approach is to remark on Stipe’s obtuse vocals, or Buck’s perfectly unshowy arpeggios, so in the spirit of not following the crowd and in the spirit of collective credit (I’m, like, so R.E.M.), I’m going to offer up plaudits to Bill Berry and Mike Mills for their part in Murmur‘s perfectly formed sound. This is an album about them just as much as it is about Stipe and Buck: Mills with his backing vocals and his beautifully melodic basslines, Berry in perfect combination with him.