R.E.M. was one of many college rock bands to come out of Athens, Georgia in the 80's. Their debut album was not too dissimilar in sound from their contemporaries such as Pylon and Love Tractor. Murmur has some great songs, but it not necessarily an indicator of the heights R.E.M. would reach as a band. I'm sure that at the time this album came out, there were still people who thought Pylon or Love Tractor would be the bigger band in the long run. What set R.E.M. apart was their incredible gift for songwriting, their lyrical prowess, and the fact that, although not enough people say it, Michael Stipe has one of the best voices in the history of rock.
Of course Murmur only hints at R.E.M.'s eventual greatness. Even so, songs like "Radio Free Europe" and "Talk About the Passion" tell the tale of how far above their peers R.E.M. stood. This is a solid college rock album and a fantastic historical document if you're a die-hard R.E.M. fan, which I am.