R.E.M. is peerless at steering a steady, sensible course between the Scylla of marginality and the Charybis of mainstream compromise. How 's it done? By playing rock'n'roll to the underground and the underground to rock'n'roll, with equal passion for both sides. Guitarist Peter Buck leads bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry in a band that's always used elements of Velvet Underground and 1970s New York punk rock for the same reason blues musicians flatten their guitar notes: so when you play the same old song--in R.E.M.'s case a mixture of chiming folk rock, fratbash dance beats, big old ballads, and rave-ups-- it'll spring out with compressed ferocity. Meanwhile, vocalist Michael Stipe has progressed from the most gripping art student mumbles ever recorded to full-fledged status in the felowship of progressive and media-shy quirky lead singers, sometimes drowning in his own pretensions, but mostly forcing R.E.M. to achieve the passion and pomp that elevates organic roots music into the ralms of dream. Murmur, the album that won the band its cult, raises the stakes, with brillianty airy production by Mitch Easter and Don Dixon, heavier beats, perfect little guitar riffs, melodies to make a young man cry, and anti-anthemic choruses that still feel charged with import; R.E.M. was conveying a sense of indie rock as something like a folk cathedral.( It worked. An age of jangle descended on the college radio scene R.E.M. 's popularity invented: the dB's, Game Theory, Let's Active, Miracle Legion, Windbreakers, Buzz of Delight, Tommy Keene, Guadalcanal Diary.)


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