Track

Sitting Still

Artist

R.E.M.

Album

Murmur

'Sitting Still' - Murmur

Stipe’s mumbled, incomprehensible vocal style appears to be exaggerated as an early characteristic of the band, but it reaches its peak in ‘Sitting Still’. A few parts of the lyrics emerge clearly, “we could gather, throw a fit”, “waste of time, sitting still” and “I can hear you”. Matthew Perpetua, whose excellent Pop Songs 07-08 project examines the band’s songs one by one, points out the resonance between “I can hear you”/”can you hear me” ringing clear and the overall theme of communication in the album.

The most indistinct point in the whole album comes in the chorus, where all guesses are equal - “up to par and Katie buys a kitchen size”/”Katie bars a kitchen sign”. It doesn’t particularly matter, but nor are they just pleasant-sounding word vomit. They function as a strange and abstract use of language, and as a quality of the band’s songs that will disappear within a few albums. By contrast, ‘Moral Kiosk’ has much more enunciation in the lyrics but they’re still not a linear story or a straight argument, skating around ideas and connections to build something that’s read in inference or interpretation.

'Sitting Still' still manages a singalong quality in spite of being slightly inscrutable, structured with the chorus building over insistent drumming to catchy repetition on the second go, the switch on the second “we could gather, throw a fit”, the prolonged, plaintive “can you hear me?”, the speak-shout at “and you can gather when I talk/talk until you're blue”, and how sharply and deftly the chorus folds back into the verse each time.

It’s also one point in the album where there’s a touch of the post-punk edge and the country-tinged rock coming together, though each track is in between the two. On the more distinctly harsh end, there’s ‘9-9’, ‘Moral Kiosk’, and the echoing, pounding ‘West of the Fields’. ‘Pilgrimage’ (a more abstract precursor to the call-to-arms songs that follow later) and ‘Laughing’ both flip between being very melodic and very angular, while ‘Catapult’ is high-momentum country rock. ‘We Walk’ is nearly folk pastiche, and ‘Perfect Circle’ is slow, sweet and sounds more like a track from Fables of the Reconstruction or Lifes Rich Pageant. ‘Radio Free Europe’ is a massive pop song.