February 5, 2008

“9-9” is essentially an abstraction, but its dominant emotions ring loud and clear — paranoia, frustration, agitation, and confusion. It is by far the most aggressive song on Murmur, but since it lacks a focus for its negativity, it comes off as an expression of impotence. The singer feels trapped by his neuroses, entirely unable to overcome his crippling “conversation fear.” The band draws on the tension and restrained aggression of post-punk in general and Gang Of Four in particular, but contrast the harsh metallic clang of the chords and the nervous, pacing quality of the bass line with a pensive guitar arpeggio and a subtly, barely audible organ drone that even out the mood and keep us aware that this is all happening in the mind of a passive, painfully shy individual.


71 Responses to “9-9”

  1. Heyberto Says:

    I like this song.

  2. ScottMalobisky Says:

    this is an extremely cool song , don’t really no what to say about it except that I recall reading that Stipe got a few of his early lyrics by sitting back in social situations-parties ?- and listening to conversations , retaining snippets of them

  3. 2d Says:

    this song and “auctioneer (another engine)” have always been inextricably linked in my mind, even if they have completely different subjects. it’s the dark, menacing psychedelia that they have in common – and the overall creepiness. like two mysterious silhouettes moving through the tangled kudzu vines, they have always seemed like “dangerous” songs to me – it’s almost like i get the mental picture of a stop sign every time i hear either of them. this puts me in a hypnosis of sorts, mesmerized by the circular arpeggios, pounding percussion, tar-in-feathers bassline and convulsive vocals, morphing together in an entity far more treacherous than either of them taken separately. the genius of early r.e.m.!

    as a bonus, “9-9” also features the lovely and eerie bridge that digs deep into the subconscious to appeal to the biggest fears it can find. listening to this song in the dark is always a treat.

  4. adam Says:

    love that bridge yes… REM does bridges well. couple of good ones on Acclerate too… but, what does ‘9-9’ actually stand for?

  5. Brian Says:

    This track came up on shuffle the other night while I was driving and it caught me by surprise.

    2d- you’re right about listening to it in the dark. Driving in the dark is even better.

  6. Paul Alferink Says:

    I remember saying Stipe saying in a interview that the only lyrics that meant anything in this song were “conversation fear.” The rest was just garbage. That this song is really just about conversation fear.

    Hey! There’s a tie in to T.S. Eliot . . .

    To lead you to an overwhelming question … 10
    Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
    Let us go and make our visit.

    In the room the women come and go
    Talking of Michelangelo.

  7. Kirsten Says:

    >>paranoia, frustration, agitation, and confusion

    Perfectly said, Matthew. Add maybe nervousness. Another one of the songs that I regularly refer to as my “favourite”. The bass line is just really cool and the guitar line is creepy. Come to think of it, add “stressed” to that list. Michael does an amazing job with his delivery of the lyrics too.

    If I die before I wake, I prey the lord HESITATE!


  8. Kirsten Says:

    Not to mention “Conversation Fear”

    One of the best lines ever written in the history of music.

    Great live too – always done with so much energy. If I could request a song to see them play live from their back catalogue, this would be it.

  9. Elliot H. Says:

    This and Laughing are my favorites on Murmur.

    I think 9-9 is the real feeling cementer for the album, as in it just contains so much atmosphere that it’s a bottomless pit of emotion no matter how many listens. You get lost in it, and I mean that in a good way. Not many songs can do that. Plus, that bass line at the beginning is pure dark beauty.

  10. ScottMalobisky Says:

    then it got to the point for Michael where he couldn’t use this technique anymore , ” It got harder to steal overheard converstions because I couldn’t go to parties without people wanting to talk TO ME about the band.”

  11. Ben Says:

    This song, like most of the band’s early stuff, is mostly just sound to me. I know the lyrics are there, I just don’t pay them much mind. A few words manage to sneak out here and there and color my impression of the rest of the song, but they mostly just sound like syllables. In this song, the “conversation fear” line gives the whole song some tangibility at the very end, but I’ll be damned if I know what else Stipe is saying.

    I still love the mumbled vocals on the early albums, especially when they blend so perfectly with the rest of the band, and that sense of “what the hell is he saying?” mystery is a huge part of the cool mystique.

  12. 2fs Says:

    Ben: In a real sense it doesn’t matter what the words are – the emotion of the song comes across loud & clear. I’m biased, of course: nearly 25 years later and Murmur is quite possibly still my favorite album of all time. It’s certainly one whose every instant is permanently etched in my memories. I’m sure part of that is nostalgia…but I’ve never not loved this album, never not listened to it, so that nostalgia is an overlay. And it’s a sort of emotionally apt one: I’m not being nostalgic for the “good times” of my young college days when this came out, say (yes, I am old) – those days were fairly stressful; I wasn’t all that happy, and was terribly insecure about much – too much – but somehow, the awareness of such incredible possibility that this album offered then, still offers, is quite powerful.

  13. Mr Cup Says:

    If you can have only one emotional bass-line, this is it. It’s a conjurer of feeling and mood without giving a shape to those things. As MP says – abstract. Expressive, but not so articulate.
    Love the heatseaker riffing from Buck here too. If I was going in an air guitar contest I would pick this tune. Hey – it’s not a career move!

    Love the run of Sitting Still, 9-9, Shaking Through.

  14. 2d Says:

    for some reason, to me “accelerate” (the song) seems to me to have great potential to become another fast & dark track like this. guess i’ll wait until the album comes out and see.

    p.s.: the production on “murmur” is excellent. clearly a studio album, but still raw and energic.

  15. Dark Bob Says:

    It’s amazing how great Murmur sounds 25 years later. Just so much better than the manufactured corporate bullshit that is being pumped out today. This album is a true Masterpeice. Arguably the best album of the 1980’s. 9-9 is an incredible song.

  16. Martijn Says:

    The live version of this on that Murmur with bonustracks is amazing too. Maybe better than the studio version… I dreamed about Murmur by the way, how it’s so brilliantly produced. No album will ever sound like it again… certainly not as long as it’s obligatory for new music to be compressed and clipped to death.

  17. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    REM doing post-punk. Beautiful. I could hear Interpol or some such band doing a version of this.

  18. 2d Says:

    this is post 9+9 😀

  19. 2d Says:

    adam, i think “9-9” actually stands for “nine to nine”, but, as with much of early r.e.m., it’s not definite.

    i think people have mentioned seeing this song written as “9->9” on some concert setlists, and some claim you can hear “nine to nine” during the bridge section, but with stipe’s mumbling it’s again not clear. 🙂

    i just like the fact that it’s track 9 on murmur.

  20. maclure Says:

    An awesome track, one that I love putting on again and again. I love Peter’s break into the strummy bit of guitars. It’s really raw and I think the sound of this track has not dated at all – there are plenty of bands around today who would like to make songs like this.

    Full version of the song formerly known as “Disguised” now known as the next single “Supernatural superserious” up at Stereogum if anyone’s interested. I’m a big fan of it, I have to say. Contains several different parts which makes it interesting. So nice to hear Mike echoing Michael.

  21. Justin Says:

    The day the massacre at Columbine happened, I was listening to Murmur. I walked into the hall, and saw the television in the living room ablaze with news reports of the emerging tragedy. Juxtaposed against the frantic talking heads was this song, and those vague sounds we call words took form:

    one two punch
    right on target
    just in tongues
    gotta stripe
    down his back
    almighty guns
    down her back
    give me a couple
    don’t give me a couple
    of pointers
    turn to lies in
    conversation fear

    It was a really weird, spectral experience, and although I listened closer and the words were obviously not these, that they took on the moment so completely is a great testament to the power and agility of Stipe’s voice. This song still evokes that experience, and gives me chills when I listen to it.

  22. Kirsten Says:

    This song is impossible to whistle as I discovered at work yesterday.

    I also commented to somebody last year that Murmur was the best album by anyone anywhere ever. Timeless masterpiece and this song has a lot to do with why.

  23. jim jos Says:

    remember when we were all speculating that this review would come out on Sept 9th. Five months ago. To quote R.E.M Wheeeeereeee does time go?

    I don’t know if this is my favorite song on Murmur, seriously, you can’t choose just one, and I don’t know if it is the center point of the whole incredible album, but it is certainly for me Murmur’s most quintessential track.

    I have always associated the urgent, overlapping bridge especially (and it is a hell of a bridge)
    with the kind of one take, then another, panic of having many things on your mind but not really executing them all in public at the same time…summed up with the ending of “conversation fear” Love the Berry drum fills and the blending of the vocals. And of course the bass line and Bucks guitar.

    I like to listen to this at night, too. It made my “R.E.M. after hours” disc I came up with last month even with its pulsating bass and punkish feel.
    Brilliant song.

    And, I must say this here in front of my R.E.M. friends:

    Like many, I just listened to the new single (I am allowing myself that, saving the entire album until release date)
    and I must say that listening to it for the first time was a tremendous experience! What a great song that is, too!

    Sure, we have been treated to new R.E.M. songs in the past, but there has never been a time when I have gone almost seven years without hearing a new R.E.M. song that made me so happy. (and wondering for almost as long, will they produce something I really like ever again).

    I was so psyched by it I, literally closed my eyes and broke out in a huge smile.

  24. milesy Says:

    I’m glad I came to this one quite late, because I’m fascinated by all the comments here. I had no idea 9-9 was seen as such a significant track.

    I confess that for me it has always been a bit nondescript- a change in ambience between the melodic jangling of Sitting Still and Shaking Through. It’s not that I don’t like it- more like, despite Murmur being one of my most listened-to albums, I’ve almost never really noticed it properly- time to appreciate it more I feel. In a sense, though, Murmur’s songs do merge into one another, perhaps more than any other album by any other band- which is one of the things which makes it one of the best, and most timeless albums, ever. That feeling of being submerged within this wonderful, gradually morphing sound, where the voices are instruments and the lyrics almost subconscious…

    I can’t describe Murmur, but it is remarkable.

  25. Rob Says:

    This has little to do with 9-9 (which is a fantastic song by the way) but the other day I saw a kids programme on RTE here in Ireland where Michael Stipe played an ice-cream vendor who’s gone slightly crazy. Think it was called Pete&Pete. Kate Pierson was in it too. Probably from the early 90s as Michael had short hair. Anyone else seen this?

  26. beonetraveler Says:

    Love the frenzied atmosphere of this one. You’re at a party, trying to put your thoughts together. You want to talk to that person, you know the one. What to say–jokes, weather, government (hi, hi, hi)? The relentless march of the chorus. Stay on target. Heart pounding like drums. What’s wrong with me? Yes, that’s it: conversation fear. (Wouldn’t have been the same if the tune ended: coversophobia, coversophobia, coversophooooobia.)

  27. Dark Bob Says:

    I know this has nothing to do with the subject, but I just listened to SUPERNATURAL SUPERSERIOUS. OMG! What a great song!! I mean it, this is really awesome. It rocks and it even has Mills doing backup vocals, which always makes for a great REM song. Can’t wait for April 1st!

  28. Paul Alferink Says:

    Michael Stipe did play an Ice Cream Truck guy on Pete and Pete. I never saw it. Read about it. Pete and Pete obsess about the guy and he wants his privacy, as I recall.
    Hmm, I wonder why a very private lead singer of a huge rock band would play a part like that. . .

  29. Rob Says:

    Paul, if you can find this on YouTube it is well worth a look. Michael gives a head-jerking hands-waving performance. Mr Tasty is the ice-cream vendor who hides behind a mask to protect his privacy. Michael plays Captain Scrummy who may know where Mr Tasty is hiding. I was channel surfing when I saw Kate Pierson and stuck with the programme. According to the end credits Mark Mulcahy of Miracle Legion wrote the incidental music. If I’d seen this as a child I think my mind might have exploded.

  30. Bruno Says:

    OK weighing in late…

    What a song. They were definitely firing on all cylinders.

    Gang of Four were mentioned and Wire too.
    Angular was a word used for this sound. Funny, I don’t really know what it means but it fits. Peter’s chucka chucka thing with harmonics and crisp chords are great. And Mills does that open pluck waiting-for-the-note thing that drives it along. Cool snare work and so many weird vocal parts.


    I agree with a previous poster – Ben – I couldn’t tell what the hell he was on about but I got the meaning in the mumbling and babbling.

    Hide stuff in the mix. They did this really well back then.

    Love it.

    And that ‘At the summer camp where you volunteered’ on Supernatural sounds like Mike as I love him. Its great to hear that voice.

  31. Mr Cup Says:

    Yeah Bruno, the voice is back!

    I recall reading that 9-9 wasn’t going to be used on Murmur. It was only included at the insinstance of Jefferson (i think). Odd given it is the pin up song for Murmur.

  32. Kirsten Says:

    I’ve never seen the Captain Scrummy clip, but I do have the audio on CD. Michael’s acting skills leave a lot to be desired, but that’s what makes it so great and one of the many, many reasons that I love him.

  33. milesy Says:

    Mr Cup: 9-9 ‘is the pin up song for murmur’.
    Really? I like it, as I said- but I must be missing something here…

  34. milesy Says:

    I just cracked and listened to the new single. It does sound good. As has been noted, it is great to have those backing vox back; and the guitars are at times, well, jangly!- kind of Reckoningesque yet with a slightly harder edge. File Under (rough) Water?
    We could be on the edge of something here…

  35. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I also caved and listen to Supernatural Superserious (although it’s not really caving if this is really the lead single). I like it and it could grow on me as I give it more time and the lyrics sink in. Basically its everything I’ve wanted REM to do: stronger guitar, less production, a little more rock, and more Mike Mills harmony vocals – and it’s all there. Yet, I still feel like this song may be a little less than the sum of its parts. I like it, but so far do not love it. Although, it could be hooky enough to potentially get some radio play if it isn’t simply ignored because its “new” REM instead of up and coming band.

    Decided to listen to it again before sending this post just now, and yes, I think I do like it quite a bit, although I think my above comments still have some merit. It is (at the least) encouraging that the new album will be very good.

    Does anyone else hear a little bit of “Departure” in this song?

  36. Bruno Says:

    I can’t leave a funny thing alone…

    Michael Stipe singing “Living La Vida Loca”

  37. 2d Says:

    or “spice up your life” :p

  38. 2d Says:

    ORRRRR britney spears – “slave 4 u” LOL

  39. Bruno Says:

    “Tragedy” – The Bee Gees (and Sir Michael)

    It would be.

  40. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I want Britney’s Slave 4U – that would be awesomely bad!

    As far as good covers that I would like to see REM do, how about:

    Synchronicity – The Police
    How Soon Is Now? – The Smiths
    Wheat Kings – The Tragically Hip
    Sometimes – James
    The Killing Moon – Echo & The Bunnymen
    Under The Milky Way – The Church
    The Hardest Part – Coldplay

    That would be the makings of a great covers CD. Chris Martin of Coldplay has admitted in interviews that their song “The Hardest Part” is his attempt to write an REM song.

  41. Mr Cup Says:

    milesy – i mean in the way that it captures the mood and mystery of the album cover (or vice-versa).

  42. 2d Says:

    james – “sometimes” is one of my favourite songs ever. nice call bwd!

    good ones? how about
    the breeders – “cannonball”
    live – “run to the water”
    chris rea – “auberge”
    goran bregovic & iggy pop – “in the deathcar”
    dave matthews band – “ants marching”
    queen – “the show must go on”
    radiohead – “no surprises”
    the cure – “plainsong”
    smashing pumpkins – “tonight, tonight”
    the verve – “bittersweet symphony”
    alanis morissette – “you learn”
    blur – “the universal”
    garbage – “i think i’m paranoid” (!!!!)
    new order – “crystal”
    rob dougan – “furious angels” (!!!!)
    bob dylan – “don’t think twice, it’s all right”
    phish – “llama” (!!!!)
    travis – “the humpty dumpty love song” (!!!!)


  43. Rob Says:

    In terms of bad cover versions, how about Since You’ve Been Gone by Rainbow?

  44. Bruno Says:

    Ha! that would truly be awful Rob.

    “Hold The Line” the original track but Michael on vox.


  45. Mr Cup Says:

    Did anyone else think the chorus line was ‘give me a proper job, give me a proper job’?

  46. ScottMalobisky Says:

    something something something “in the parking lot…”

  47. ScottMalobisky Says:

    “got to strut”…thru the parking lot (?)…….

  48. ScottMalobisky Says:

    give me occupation
    give me amputation
    give me automation

    got to strut
    through the parking lot

  49. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    2d, we have very similar taste in music. I own all but 4 of the songs you mentioned. In an interesting side note, I went to junior high with Alanis Morrisette in Ottawa, Canada. It’s always been strange to me to see her so famous.

  50. ScottMalobisky Says:

    …..the cleanest city in the world , Ottawa…..and the Toronto Maple Leafs are an example of a grammaticlally incorrect sports team…… been to Quebec City and Montreal…….

  51. jim jos Says:

    BWD, is it strange to see her so famous, or is it, I don’t know, maybe just a touch ironic?

  52. milesy Says:

    Don’t get me started! Rain at your wedding is not ironic! It’s just an unfortunate coincidence!!!

  53. milesy Says:

    Mr Cup- thanks for explaining- now I get the ‘pin up’ comment- and you are so right.

    Gave 9-9 a couple of spins yesterday, and realised what a gem had been basically passing me by all these years, as I was still basking in the glow of Sitting Still and waiting for the set up for Shaking Through, one of my all-time faves.
    Starting to understand all the fuss about 9-9 now.

    Malobisky- ‘Give me amputation…’ LOL!

  54. Mr Cup Says:

    Ah milesy – someone else who’s had it with ‘irony’ being mistaken for coincidence. There isn’t a journalist here (Oz) who has worked it out yet.

  55. lenny Says:

    Speaking of rain on the wedding day — did anyone see the episode of Jeopardy when they are talking to the contestants and a woman said she was praying for snow on her wedding day? Then she said it didn’t snow on the big day, but she did get 8 inches on her honeymoon! (I’m not making it up — the clip was on that “TV’s most outrageous moments” countdown last night. Now that’s irony.)

  56. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Great story lenny,

    As to my dubious connection with Alanis Morrisette, it is a little strange to think of her as being so famous, however, even in junior high she was sort of famous as at the time she was on the Nickelodeon show “You Can’t Do That On Television” – more than anything it gets me when I go to buy one of her CD’s (I like her music generally) and then I think to myself, “There has to be a way to get this CD without paying for it”. That said, we knew each other but were not really “friends”. Although if we sat down to talk she would remember me. In her song “Unsent” that has letters she supposedly wrote to ex-boyfriends but never sent she uses my name in one of the verses. It’s not really about me but its fun to sometimes mess with people and tell them it is.

  57. ScottMalobisky Says:

    then there is the story in the news of the 36 year old bride who dropped dead during her first wedding night dance with her new husband , some things are tragic beyond words, unless the husband’s name is Costanza

  58. ScottMalobisky Says:

    8 inches on her honeymoon ? is that the joke ? am I even more tired than I think I am ?

  59. Paul Alferink Says:

    Oh, BWD. Please tell me you didn’t date Alanis. Cause she’s got this song . . . you might have heard it. . . but in it, she’s a mildly preturbee about an old boyfriend. She never went down on you in a theater, did she? Cause if she did, man, you got some ‘splaining to do.

    Wait, how old was Alanis when she did “You Can’t Do That on Television?” She couldn’t have been 16 yet.

  60. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    No, this is 7th and 8th grade. She hadn’t even recorded her Canadian only pop albums yet (which luckily I avoided by moving back to the States before they were released).

  61. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    Actually, rumor has it that the subjct of the song is actually Dave Coulier – you know from Full House, Joey.

  62. Paul Alferink Says:

    I’ve heard that rumor. I’ve also heard Vanilla Ice. Dave Coullier says he was never so important in her life to write a song about. The Vanilla Ice thing didn’t even have the legs to stay a rumor long.

    In actuality, it’s probably a nobody. Or Warren Beatty. I bet he thinks that song is about him. . .

  63. Paul Alferink Says:

    Add “L-O-V-E” by Ashlee Simpson and
    “Girlfriend” by Poser McGee, I mean Avril Lavigne
    to song REM would sound horrible covering. They would improve them, however, they would still be bad.

    Or they could to “Hollaback Girl” And Mike Mills and Bill Berry could try and Squeeze into there old marching band uniforms. . .

  64. Beethoven Was Deaf Says:

    I don’t care what anybody says – Hollaback Girl is a damn fine song. Plus, if REM did it the live drums would be HUGE in place of the synthbeat of the original. It would be their biggest drums since Document!

  65. ScottMalobisky Says:


  66. jim jos Says:

    just saw the brief street interview on Pitchfork with Michael saying that SNSS is “a geek anthem” and I was just thinking yesterday “I can really relate to the lyrics of this song”


  67. Ignis Sol Says:

    “9-9” is a song that further proves tht Murmur is timeless and classic (and not in the Michael Bolton/Barbra Streisand way). It is a curious and beautiful stone among the other gems of this great album.

    jim jos: everybody here is a geek and comes from somewhere…

  68. milesy Says:

    Too true. Geeks Anon. ‘Hello, my name is milesy and I am an REM geek…’

  69. Kirsten Says:

    I’ll join LOL!

  70. Mr Cup Says:

    the chorus chime in, the geek chorus

  71. Paul Alferink Says:

    Happy 9-9.

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