Editor’s Note: The Albumism staff has selected what we believe to be the 100 Most Dynamic Debut Albums Ever Made, representing a varied cross-section of genres, styles and time periods. Click “Next Album” below to explore each album or view the full album index here.
Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The Police’s Synchronicity. U2’s War. What do these three classic albums have in common? Well, for whatever it’s worth, all three albums were runners-up to R.E.M.’s debut album Murmur in Rolling Stone’s critics’ end-of-year best albums roundup in 1983. Eight years before the quartet of Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Bill Berry would finally break through to the mainstream with 1991’s Out of Time on the strength of the MTV and radio staple “Losing My Religion,” Murmur introduced the world to the workman-like stylings and guitar-driven melodic sound of the Athens, Georgia based band’s compositions.
The official singles “Radio Free Europe” and “Talk About the Passion” are indelible hallmarks of early ‘80s indie rock, but the rest of the album offers so much more to admire, particularly in the form of the soaring “Pilgrimage,” shimmering “Laughing,” and insistent “Catapult.” “Little things are added on to distinguish one song from another,” Mills explained in a 1983 Trouser Press interview. “We like that the more you listen to it, the more you hear things that didn't pop up the first few times, especially on headphones. It'd be horrible to hear a record once and pick up everything on it. That wouldn't be any fun.”
Indeed, each time I listen to Murmur, it never sounds the same. An essential quality of an album with staying power.