Fables Of The Reconstruction
IRS Records, 1985
REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/09/2006
R.E.M.'s third full-length release, Fables Of The Reconstruction, was my first real exposure to the band aside from a few brief glimpses on MTV and a local college radio station. I had found their refreshing brand of jangly folk-flavored rock compelling and dove in after reading a Rolling Stone interview with singer Michael Stipe.
One of the aspects I love about this album is the way it builds up tension and intensity across the first four tracks. Opening the album is the dirge-like “Feeling Gravity's Pull.” Peter Buck’s minimal guitar accompanies Stipe's plodding vocal, and the two never quite synch up, but in a pleasingly unsettling way. “Maps And Legends” continues in a similar vein, winding up slighty while maintaining the down-tempo yet melodic grind. “Driver 8” and “Life And How To Live It” crank it up several notches, the former featruing a train-like rhythm and a sweet guitar hook showcasing the Byrds-influenced folk rock that R.E.M. has firmly emeshed into their own sound.
Fables artfully creates a sense of place through Stipe's lyrics. As cryptic and incomprehensible as ever, you nonetheless get a sense of environment and locale that colors the whole album in decrepit tones, like a once-friendly and inviting place that has crumpled and fallen in on itself under the weight of time. The dark tones of the album give this feeling even greater weight. “Driver 8,” “Green Grow The Rushes” and the lonely “Wendell Gee” create a sense of wistful melancholy that derives as much from the evocative melodies as they do from Stipe’s lyrics and forlorn delivery.
Fables was not as well received as the first two R.E.M. discs, largely it seems because of the departure from the stripped-down sound of those albums. Fables is distinctly denser and darker than the previous two, but it also sounds more mature and conveys an emotional depth they hadn’t touched on before. For me it still stands out as some of their best work with its rich, murky musical textures and Stipe's enigmatic lyrics.