February 18, 2008
If Murmur is about anything at all, it’s about communication. More accurately, its songs attempt to articulate the state of being entirely inarticulate, or unable to process the way other people express themselves. There’s a sense of confusion in just about every track, but more than that, a genuine effort to overcome this mess of miscommunication. “Shaking Through” begins with a statement of resigned frustration — “could it be that one small voice doesn’t count in the room?” — but as the song carries along, it finds its grace in the sound of the music, if not its words. “Shaking through / opportune” may look terrible and obtuse in print, but that chorus sounds absolutely glorious on record, as the piano, rhythm, and harmony come together like a gentle wave of compassion and humility. Even more is conveyed in the song’s bridge, in which Michael Stipe sings the line “in my life…” over a few bars, but never completes the thought, as though he cannot find the words to express what he’s feeling, and jumped the gun a bit because he was so eager to be understood. It’s an awkward moment that we all recognize from life, but the band have turned it into something rather gorgeous and sublime.