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File Under Opportune
Did you know about the joke that R.E.M. had running through their credits for their entire recording career? It had to do with their music publishing, which is why it’s super trainspottingy and utterly nerdy for me to know this. With Murmur, they decided to call their music publishing company “Night Garden Music,” which was “Administered throughout the Universe by Unichappel Music.” For nearly 30 years, on all of their studio albums absent one, exactly which world their Night Garden Music was administered would change.
I don’t remember when I discovered this, or if I read it in one of the many R.E.M. books I devoured in the late 80s / early 90s, but one of my goals as I write about them is to let you know what the variation is for each of their albums, as well as the one album where they — let’s face it, it was probably Michael Stipe who instigated this running joke — didn’t vary from the previous album.
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Kicking off with some Peter Buck guitar chords over Bill Berry’s kick drum, “Shaking Through” is a reassuring return to normalcy after all of the dissonant chaos of of “9-9,” but rather than the relatively guitar-oriented jangle of “Catapult” and “Sitting Still,” it add yet another wrinkle, Mike Mills’ piano playing.
With Mitch Easter and Don Dixon mixing “Shaking Through” so that the Buck guitar arpeggios are one speaker and Mills piano is on the other, much of the appeal lies in the musical conversation the two have throughout. Also, the wistful melody line that Michael Stipe comes up with the the verses, which I hear as:
Could it be that one small voice
Doesn’t count in the world
Yellow like a geisha doll
Denying all the way
Could this lie three be ten
Autumn marches on
Yellow like a geisha doll
Denial all the way
Like “Laughing,” the verses of “Shaking Through” have an melancholic, almost ancient feel — like they’ve always been there, just waiting for Stipe to pluck from the ether — even if I’m pretty sure that they don’t mean a damn thing. But really, for me, “Shaking Through” is all about the sound they’re all making more so than the words they’re singing.
Also, it’s really fun to belt out the chorus, which is rendered as this:
But sung like this:
About halfway through, there’s a bridge, in which Stipe sings “in my eeyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeyyyyeeeeeeyyyyeeeeessss” and with the help of Berry & Mills ends up being mostly gorgeous wordless screams and grunts, and even a modulation at the end, at which you can really hear Mike Mills almost take over the chorus.
After “Shaking Through,” there’s a little palate-clearing instrumental bit, and Murmur finishes with two songs I’m not going to write about, the bouncy annoyance “We Walk” and the just fine “West of The Fields,” making it my all-time favorite album that doesn’t end nearly as well as all of my other all-time favorite albums.
But that’s OK, because Murmur was still a life-changing record in a way that hadn’t really happened to me since I first heard The Clash all the way back in 1978, and I couldn’t wait to hear what they were going to do next. Turns out I wouldn’t have to wait all that long.
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