There are some albums which are simply perfect. The songs themselves may or may not be perfect on their own, but taken together, they form something that’s much greater than the sum of its parts. It’s easy to forget how perfect some albums are. This is especially true for albums which I’ve known for awhile, where I’ve seen the artist in question perform songs from those albums time and again.
I recently received R.E.M.’s re-issue of Murmur as a birthday present. I discovered R.E.M. when I was in high school, the song I remember catching my attention was ‘World Leader Pretend’. I quickly acquired their back catalogue, and loved Murmur from the first notes of ‘Radio Free Europe’. That first copy of Murmur got scratched beyond all recognition in my car stereo, and I lost its replacement when I lent it to a friend who never returned it. The third copy is safely ensconced on my shelves at home.
I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison of my old copy and this newly-remastered release, and I probably won’t. My memory tells me that this sounds better, and I’m okay if my memory isn’t completely accurate. I’m enjoying listening to this and hearing things that I didn’t hear before — either due to my own inattention, or perhaps forgetting about it, or maybe it really is the new mastering. Stipe’s vocals stand out more (but not so much more that they sound out-of-place), the guitars jangle in ways that they never jangled before. And every second of the album feels perfectly crafted.
Then, just when it can’t get any better, it does. It does so in the form of a live show, just a few months after the album’s release. You hear early versions of songs that would be released later, like ‘Harbourcoat’ and ‘7 Chinese Bros’, as well as blistering live versions of ‘Talk About the Passion’ and ‘We Walk’. My favourite moment on the live disc is ‘There She Goes Again’. In all, this show grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go for an hour. It is perfect.
I could come up with complaints about this album. Why didn’t they include, say, the Chronic Town EP? Why not give us the whole show (which has long been available in bootlegging circles, and opens with a rendition of ‘Wolves, Lower’ that simply must be heard to be believed)? And I get those complaints, kind of. After all, I certainly wouldn’t mind more. But then I listen to this album, as it stands, again. Tacking on extra tracks would have broken the spell. I might have gotten more, but that wouldn’t’ve been better.