R.E.M.: Murmur (Deluxe Edition)

So wondrous was the sound of R.E.M.’s Murmur upon its release in 1983, that the deceptive simplicity and haunting air of this music is no less perfect in re-mastered and expanded form over twenty-five years later.

For all the oblique references of songs such as “Radio Free Europe.” this music never became bogged down in the intellect of vocalist Michael Stipe or his selectively elocution of cryptic lyrics in “Moral Kiosk.” These performances come alive in the spirit of the quartet’s chemistry, an attribute missing since drummer Bill Berry departed in 1997.

This re-mastered version of the original Mitch Easter/Don Dixon production magnifies the judicious skill by which the group augmented the basic instrumental lineup with such simple effects as the delay on the snare drum during “Perfect Circle.” Meanwhile, the complete Toronto 1983 concert included on the second disc in this package reaffirms those core virtues of the band.

Comprised of most of Murmur, culls from its predecessor EP Chronic town (“Gardening at Night”) and tunes yet to appear on recordings (“7 Chinese Brothers” from Reckoning), this slightly-less than hour-long set demonstrates how a three-piece lineup of guitar/drums/bass can, in the right sets of hands, become as full and forceful as a wider complement of musicians; the band’s finesse is remarkable in replicating arrangements like that of “Carnival of Light (Boxcars),” right down to bassist Mike Mills’ vocal harmonies and Peter Buck’s guitar doesn’t just jangle.

This ‘Deluxe Edition’ doesn’t contain a plethora of alternate takes, b-side and otherwise unissued recordings (see And I Feel Fine: The IRS Years), but, by dint of that very streamlined focus, is perfect in keeping with R.E.M.’s concept and execution of Murmur.

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