May 10, 2007

A lot of Murmur‘s distinct charm and singular beauty comes from the way Mitch Easter and Don Dixon were able to engineer  the recordings so that even mundane elements such as snare hits and arpeggiated acoustic guitar figures could sound slightly, inexplicably alien. The surreal effect of “Laughing” is at least partially due to their subtle technical prowess. Their elaborate layers of guitar overdubs achieve their desired effect so gracefully that they are nearly imperceptible, and their stark mix highlights the negative space in the arrangement, which in turns emphasizes the song’s dreamy, ethereal quality.

In spite of some flashy rototom flourishes, Bill Berry’s percussion is typically clever and understated. The best bit comes when he shifts into a brisk disco beat on the abbreviated third chorus, bumping up the section’s sense of urgency without calling attention to the dynamic shift. Nearly every change in “Laughing” is like a subliminal suggestion, and the resulting effect feels a bit like traveling from one place to another without having a solid recollection of being in transit.


18 Responses to “Laughing”

  1. gabriel peters Says:

    i don´t know an album cover that transports the mood and sound of the music better than the picture on murmur. “laughing” is one of that kind of fun and uplifting songs of R.E.M. that I very much like (in difference to shiny happy people, lotus or the played to death losing my religion). murmur is like fables is like new adventures a road movie album. that are the best sort of R.E.M. albums. in that postmodern times we are all soul travellers that haven´t no longer the old secure places family, religion, home, nation, committed relationships etc. that´s the mood of the road movie albums of R.E.M. – and laughing is about not to take that too serious…

  2. It’s funny, I never think of “Laughing” as a FUN song, but I guess I can’t really argue that it is not.

  3. Kirsten Says:

    “Laughing” is one of those songs that I really love, dispite having no idea what it is about. I think to me it’s more about the music and the tone in which it is sung that makes it great. It’s a curl up with a blanket and some chocolate and get comfy sort of song. I really love the bass intro to this one, too.

  4. Andy Says:

    You’ve got to start dealing with Dead Letter Office.
    Get to it!

  5. Ship Erect Says:

    Laughing is one of the most fun R.E.M. songs to play on the guitar. Capo the second fret and you can’t NOT play it.

    I’ve always thought the lyrics were about Major Tom. I’ve never quite got the Laocoon reference, so I hear “To rocket one, built too soon.” Laughing (in a “lighted tomb”–a spaceship floating away) is Major Tom’s last transmission to Ground Control.

    Well, that’s my idea anyway.

  6. Marc Says:

    “Laughing” in my mind has always been one of the most rewarding, undefinable R.E.M. songs. “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” also falls in that category for me in the way that both songs continually transform in meaning the deeper the listen. Great post—it’s enhanced my take on the song tremendously.

  7. ozon Says:

    Gabriel: “Lotus” is a ‘fun, happy song’? It sounds bitingly sarcastic to my ears.

  8. Evan Says:

    I wouldn’t call “Losing My Religion” fun and uplifting either.

    What I like best about “Laughing” is the number of words in it that sound like the title but aren’t, like “Laocoon,” “lighted,” “lanky,” and “latch.”

  9. Matt from Philly Says:

    Great site, Matthew, I’ve had a lot of fun checking in to see which tune you tackle next (whilst feigning being productive at work). A particular favorite part of “Laughing” for me has always been at the conclusion, with the chorus harmonies and that elongated pronunciation of the word laughing.

  10. Mary Alice Says:

    yeah the bass line rules, whoever said that! I think the production is brilliant, but it’s understated. It’s not like it’s the first thing you notice, and it emphasizes what’s all ready awesome about R.E.M.’s performance. I read some quote from one of the R.E.M.ers that they didn’t know if they’d have a chance to make another record and wanted to put everything they loved about music on Murmur and just make it representative of the kind of timeless record they’d all hoped to make. I think the music sophistication you spotted on Laughing shows this, that they were special and made very focused and deliberate decisions even back then…and I think the production was just like someone who does a good job putting on makeup…it’s meant to enhance the good things and if you look closely you’ll see it’s there but the idea isn’t to have it be the first thing you notice or take away from the actual good qualities all ready there.

  11. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Mike Mills get so little appreciate as a great bass player and REM’s bass parts were almost always unusual and often carreied the songs melodies, setting the groundwork for the bass dominated alternative/grunge explosion of the 1990’s. “Laughing” is one of the very best songs from Murmur. It seems to be both happy and sad, or at least has some undercurrent of sadness to it. I always get the feeling that the song’s protaganist is laughing because if he/she doesn’t laugh they are going to cry. It has a carefree and haunted feel that is beautiful. Love it!

    I’ve never made the Major Tom connection but I think I sorta like it!

  12. Arkmay Says:

    I always loved the backing vocals on this song – especially that “ah, ah, a ah” bit on every chorus.

  13. Bruno Says:

    I’ve always thought this one was about smoking a joint – lock the doors/lighted/laughing. But hey, what do I know!

    Yeah, “Murmur” really does have a timeless quality to it that a lot of their other albums don’t quite achieve as successfully. I think a lot of it has to do with the folk rock instrumentation, the harmonies and the production.

    I mean I think even when I heard it back then it just sounded instantly like it was a classic. Almost like I’d heard the music before. To me the harmonies on “Laughing” are a good example of that timelessness.

  14. transformerdog Says:

    looking up rototom now

  15. transformerdog Says:

    oh ,of course , Pink Floyd ‘Time’, that distinct introduction , anyway , I love this song , it’s just …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………I don’t know. I can’t find the words……………………………………………the essence of refined rock and roll ,hints of the hidden treasure dripping with nectar soon to be uncovered on the angelic expanses of the transcending lucid and erudite plateaus.

  16. fido Says:

    One of my all time favorite R.E.M. songs. Lush is always the way I thought of it in my mind. And my favorite part is always the way Stipe holds that uhhhhhhhhh…. after in our room….

    Like Beethoven said, the song is both happy and the undercurrent of sadness or closer, melancholy is there. Always the dynamic in the best REM.

  17. Susan Says:

    Have you heard the Let’s Active records from around this period? Cypress and Afoot specifically. I think they have a lot of the same quality to the production, though the material has some significant differences. Anyways, if you haven’t heard early Let’s Active I highly recommend it, especially Cypress, which is one of my favorite records ever.

  18. profligateprofiterole Says:

    Hi Susan.

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