August 17, 2007
The gorgeous, spectral piano tone in “Perfect Circle” is one of the most distinct and evocative sounds in the entire R.E.M. discography. The part was recorded on two pianos simultaneously for the studio recording, and though that is not immediately apparent, there’s a subtle harmonic variation that exaggerates the slightly unreal quality of the sound. As with much of Murmur, Don Dixon and Mitch Easter were able to record simple, straightforward parts in a way that so well captured the essential sound of the instruments that they seem somewhat surreal in the context of more ambiguous aspects of the arrangements — in this case, Michael Stipe singing near the bottom of his register on the verses, and the distant touches of electric guitar that are so carefully placed in the arrangement that they may as well be subliminal suggestions. The bass and percussion parts are crisply recorded and placed in the foreground of the mix, and though they provide a sense of movement through the song, the parts are deliberately minimal, and allow the reverb of the piano part to linger through the piece. It’s an exceptionally beautiful and haunting track, but its emotional center is vague — the lyrics allude to friendship, failing romance, absence, youth, and death, but the scope is a bit unclear, though perhaps that is precisely the point.