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Murmur (33⅓ #22)

3.46  ·  Rating Details ·  219 Ratings  ·  27 Reviews
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 wor ...more
Paperback, 136 pages
Published May 28th 2005 by Continuum International Publishing Group (first published April 28th 2005)
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Paul Bryant
Feb 23, 2011 Paul Bryant rated it really liked it
Even my friend Gig, a man who knows more about music than several other men, has forgotten how great REM were on Chronic Town, Murmur, Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction and Life's Rich Pageant. It's like trying to tell someone about the ripsnorting rock and roll on the Rolling Stones' first two albums, you're going to get funny looks. Huh? REM? Those wankers? Yes, them! Very early REM was an irreducible thing of beauty, you couldn't tell people about the great guitarist because Peter Buck ...more
Matt Harris
May 29, 2007 Matt Harris rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: R.E.M. fans
A lovely and well paced look at a little gold nugget of an album, from a fan who discovered it on tape, in a time of Howard Jones and Thompson Twins neon spiky haired 80's pop.

Of course Murmur sounded nothing like those guys, and contained absolute canyons of depth and emotion, but obscured by many things, including reverb, wilfully odd Michael Stipe and his lyrics with no obvious nouns or verbs, or protagonists or plots, just hints which seem to click into your memory.

You can tell I have a sof
Sep 21, 2011 Chris added it
four shaggy college dropouts from Georgia load up a blue two-seat van & drive up the coast to South Carolina, touring dive-bars & abandoned churches on their way to cut an album of "music that didn't suck"... and end up giving birth to alternative rock.

R.emember E.very M.oment
(you will be missed)
Bryan Hall
Dec 28, 2014 Bryan Hall rated it liked it
I love the 33 1/3 book series, but because the authors have the freedom to analyze an album in any way they choose, the books are of widely varying quality. In this edition, the author is kind enough to signpost his approach: a brief history of the band leading up to this, their first full-length effort; historical and artistic context; and analysis of language.

The first two sections are great -- having read at least one full biography of R.E.M., I was afraid I would have to sit through a rehash
Jun 04, 2008 Eric rated it it was ok
Shelves: music
Some questions: Will even the best pop music be remembered and written about in the same way, say, the works of Shakespeare are? Doesn't it seem almost antithetical to write theory about pop music? Even the great stuff? I say this because after reading a book about an album that is very near and dear to me, I have my doubts that any sort of academic criticism can capture the essence of why we listen to and cherish such music, the love of which is a mélange of joyful in-the-moment exhilaration an ...more
Patrick McCoy
Sep 27, 2011 Patrick McCoy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
After reading J. Niimi’s Murmur I am starting to appreciate the artistic scope of serious pop music. I guess I’ve always appreciated pop music, but after reading this which shows the dedication that went into realizing the songs in the studio by adding sounds layering and maintaining themes and motifs holistically throughout the process-which is often reflected in song order and cover art as well. Somehow, I can’t say that I would be as impressed with a careful rendering or say, a Brittany Spear ...more
"Murmur" is the brilliant debut album by R.E.M. that has never really been discovered in Europe (yet), since they never had any significant success here until "Losing My Religion" was released. So contrary to the likes of "Automatic For The People" or "New Adventures in Hi-Fi" it never got as far to become part of local pop-culture lore, and you never get to hear [i]that much[/i] said about it. "At least there's a book about it in the 33 1/3!" I thought and expected a lot learn about "Murmur"'s ...more
Garrett Peace
Dec 27, 2013 Garrett Peace rated it liked it
Actual rating: 3.5

A fascinating examination of a mostly inscrutable record that's brought down by a little too pretentious and sneering tone, particularly in the back half of the book. The approach to Murmur that's taken here is, for the most part, quite interesting, and both the more philosophical analysis of the album as a whole and the detailed analyses of each song made me notice and think about some parts of the album that I hadn't noticed/thought about before. However, the book as a whole
Corey Vilhauer
Dec 18, 2014 Corey Vilhauer rated it it was ok
Excerpt from What I've Been Reading - December 2008

"My attention wasn’t what it should have been, maybe. Or perhaps I had soaked in all of the research I could handle and needed a break. Whatever it was, I never finished Murmur. I will (after all, I only have 25 pages left). But I didn’t.

J. Niimi’s Murmur wasn’t horrible, it just wasn’t written for me. It was written for a music geek who thought too long and too deep about his album of choice. Paul’s Boutique and Doolittle didn’t try to make the
Van Edwards
Sep 26, 2014 Van Edwards rated it it was ok
J. Niimi's book on R.E.M.'s Murmur came very close to making me like it less. The chapters about the band's history leading up to this album, the recording sessions and the technical notes on each song are expected and were written well enough, but the rest of the book...

Niimi gives an overly-deep analysis of why Stipe's singing is not so much words with meaning, but another texture to the music and what he's singing isn't really important. But then goes on to try to decipher some of the meanin
Dec 19, 2008 Wade rated it really liked it
Shelves: music
This is a really good book about a great album. All of the history about the early 1980’s Athens, Georgia music scene is really cool. There is a chunk of this book that is very technical, the guy writing the book is an engineer and producer, so some of the information is very technical – which does bog some of the second chapter down a bit. But, other than that, I loved his analysis of Michael Stipe’s lyrics, which was basically to say – if you’re trying to dissect lines that Stipe has written a ...more
Feb 03, 2008 Jesse rated it liked it
Darn decent as far as the 33 1/3 series goes. I'm the rare heathen who listens to "Reveal" more than "Murmur," so Ninni's boilerplate work -- bio followed by analysis -- didn't run too deep for me as a standalone work. Most fascinating were the sections on Walter Percy's essay "Metaphor as a Mistake," which states that, with the exception of onomatopoeias, *all* language is metaphor -- an essay Michael Stipe cited at the time as the best way to understand his lyrics. "It talks about how people m ...more
Jan 12, 2012 Christopher rated it really liked it
Shelves: music, biography
When I was in high school I bought an extremely used cassette tape of R.E.M.'s "Murmur" from the Mushroom in NOLA's Garden District. I gradually wore it out in my extremely used Chevy Blazer and ended up purchasing an extremely used vinyl copy. Today I own the CD and if I could wear it out I probably would. This goes to show how important this album is to me and to many others. While some books in the 33 1/3 series are hit-or-miss, I really enjoyed this one. It gives some background to the makin ...more
Nate Woodard
Feb 21, 2013 Nate Woodard rated it did not like it
Ridiculously bad. Not insightful as artistic analysis and not interesting as journalistic storytelling.

One chapter actually just describes each of the songs in cloying detail. Others aspire to analysis of the album's tone and of Stipe's lyric writing, but end up spending more time introducing and explaining ideas than actually connecting those ideas to the album and/or telling the reader why they're relevant.
Jamie Rose
Aug 02, 2012 Jamie Rose rated it it was ok
An admirable effort to somehow distill the unquantifiable magic of Murmur, a task which Niimi takes great pains to ultimately reveal as fruitless and narrowly misses hitting on a few times. However, he also managed to make reading about my favourite album pretty boring at times, which can't be right. To be fair, I can't imagine a harder record to write about though....

I'm going to listen to it now.
Jan 21, 2014 Thomas rated it it was amazing
Really well-done. Evokes the deep weirdness and mystery of a deeply weird and mysterious album while avoiding the temptations to overanalyze on one side or punt and call it 'impenetrable' on the other. I especially enjoyed detailed descriptions of the song structures and recording process, informed by careful listening and help from direct interviews with producers Don Dixon and Mitch Easter.
Jason Meininger
May 30, 2014 Jason Meininger rated it liked it
Just about the geekiest thing I have ever read about music, but interesting nonetheless as it goes into some great if-slightly-wanky background about one of the great albums of my young teen years. The band history and story of the album's creation is far more interesting than the track-by-track writeups.
May 31, 2010 Eric rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: R.E.M. Fans, Fans of 80's alternative music
Recommended to Eric by: goodreads
Shelves: 2010_books_read
This was better than expected. This gave a good history of the band at the time, and the influences of the producers Easter and Dixon andsome of the groove of the songs. The treatment of the writing and lyrics are very good. The author knows the dangers of lyric interpretation. I have a better appreciation for the music. It helps to have the tunes available while you read each song coverage.

Mar 07, 2014 Peter rated it liked it
Well-meaning but ultimately disappointing study of R.E.M.’s Murmur, one of the elusively great albums in rock history. Although there are fine passages throughout, Niimi can’t settle on a focus, alternating between gushing R.E.M. fan, recording studio wonk, cultural theorist, social historian and memoirist; using just one of any of these focuses would have improved the narrative immensely.
Aug 31, 2007 Randy rated it really liked it
I should have predicted that an amazing — yet occasionally difficult — album like "Murmur" would yield a "33 1/3" installment that would be challenging.
The author harps a bit too long on the motif of southern gothic...and the kudzu plant that decorates the record's cover.

I enjoyed the track-by-track breakdown of the album.
Jan 06, 2011 Aaron rated it liked it
It was fun reading about the making of Murmer, the sounds on the record and the ambiguity of Michael Stipe's lyrics, but there was a long stretch towards the end of the book that was incredibly boring as well.
Jun 11, 2009 Nathan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: B-52s
Shelves: 33-1-3-series
This is the way these books are supposed to be written. Well organized with random thoughts thrown in to show the author's perspective. The last chapter got off a track a bit, but otherwise, this was one of the more enjoyable reads of the series.
Jul 10, 2016 Drew rated it it was ok
J. Niimi is some kinda smartguy, I didn't get what he was going on about. There's a lot more to Stipe's lyrics and R.E.M.'s musical stew than is apparent on first or twentieth listen, mmmIguess.
Sep 08, 2008 Marcie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: music
The life story of a rock album by R.E.M.
33 1/3 releases the beautiful tale of the band's beginning and the first full length album.
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Jun 23, 2015
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Chris Borland rated it it was amazing
Jul 12, 2013
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