Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Songs #205 & 206 - It's WEDNESDAY, but I forgot yesterday was TWOsday!

Song #205 of 9999                                                  Song #206 of 9999

Title: Talk About the Passion                                   Title: Love on a Farmboy's Wages 
Artist: R.E.M.                                                           Artist: XTC
Year: 1983                                                               Year: 1983
Album: Murmur                                                        Album: Mummer

I used to get the names of these albums mixed up all the time! In 1983, two quartets with three letters for names released albums called Murmur and Mummer. Coincidence? I think so!

Nonetheless, it's a good opportunity to feature two bands who were at very different stages of their musical development in 1983. In R.E.M.'s case, Murmur was an auspicious debut, marked by jangly guitar, melodic bass playing and an often incomprehensible Michael Stipe mumbling often incomprehensible lyrics. Nevertheless, R.E.M. found an audience on college radio and captured the attention of Rolling Stone Magazine, who named Murmur the Album of the Year, besting multi-platinum best-sellers Thriller and Synchronicity. Perhaps most significantly, Murmur prompted the resurgence of independent record labels and is perhaps responsible for spawning an entirely new genre called "alternative rock."

XTC was not a new band in 1983, but they were sounding like a very different band than the post-punk quartet that debuted in 1978 with White Music. Fresh off the critical success of 1982's English Settlement, XTC continued to embrace their English-ness (the word "mummer" refers to English pantomime with medieval origins), sharply crafting pop gems presented in quirky sonic dress. By this time, XTC had completely abandoned live performance (due to singer Andy Partridge's infamous bout with stage fright), allowing them more time to perfect their complex arrangements.

I like pairing these two bands in this way, especially when measuring them in terms of their nationalism. R.E.M.'s early work frequently dealt with themes of the American south, not often explored in popular music. They tended toward the working class at a time when Ronald Reagan was establishing the framework for what would become a decade of rapidly growing income inequality. XTC, on the other hand, revel in the joy of being English. Unencumbered by the perceived social injustice addressed by the British punk scene of the late 1970s, XTC seem at home exploring the longevity of life in the English countryside. There must be great comfort in knowing that your society has existed in some form or another for over a thousand years.

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