Fables Of The Reconstruction (Deluxe Edition)
Capitol / IRS, 2010
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/01/2010
Here's an experiment. If you find yourself striking up a conversation with a hipster who is obviously trying too hard (think obnoxiously oversized glasses and size 22 jeans for guys, librarian outfit for the ladies), ask what's their favorite R.E.M. album. Chances are their answer is going to be Fables Of The Reconstruction.
It's a perfect answer for those who fall into the "trying too hard" camp of hipsterdom. The album still falls in the early-period R.E.M., but it isn't their first album, which is the default answer for many music critics (next to Automatic For The People). In addition, the album contains not a single "I Am Superman," "The One I Love" or even "Pilgrimage." It's a challenging listen, another criteria for the "try too hard" sect of the hipster cult. If you have to work at liking something, it has to be great.
For the rest of us, Fables probably falls in the "admired from a distance" section in R.E.M.'s catalogue. If there was one thing I loved about Fables, it was how it managed to capture the sound of college rock right smack in the middle of 1985. Long before the Web, R.E.M.'s Fables, like The Replacements' Tim and Hüsker Dü's New Day Rising, sounded like a gang of talented musicians, banging out jams with minimal studio interference all the while being almost totally sheltered from the mainstream airwaves.
Fables was the first time where listeners could really identify the southern regional influence in R.E.M.'s music. While Reckoning and Murmur sounded like nothing else on the planet, Fables sounded like some earthly influence touched it. "Old Man Kensey" and "Green Grow The Rushes" lyrically read like southern gothic tales and sound like they were recorded in the middle of an autumn afternoon.
Even though there is a warmth throughout Fables (mainly courtesy of Peter Buck and Mike Mills' guitar playing), the recording environment was anything but. It was recorded almost right after the band stopped touring for Reckoning, and the weather throughout the recording in London was miserable. Both Michael Stipe and Bill Berry voiced their initial dissatisfaction with the album.
But while the album didn't contain any songs that hit your heart at first listen, it hardly could be considered a career suicide album. "Can't Get There From Here" and "Driver 8" have plenty of hooks, and the entire album is easy on the ears. It seems like the only reason people consider it a standoffish album is because the listener probably won't fall in love with the album at first listen.
The deluxe edition of Fables, coming 25 years after its release, mostly contains early versions of the songs that were recorded before the band left the states. The additional tracks fall in the good to great range, "Hyena" being the only song where the chorus will be buzzing in your head for days. Much like the Beastie Boys reissues, the reissue of Fables falls in the "if your copy is scratched to hell, it's worth picking up, otherwise you can do without" category of recent reissues that seem to be geared toward Generation X's favorite albums. But like a good reissue, it will give you another excuse to dust off an album that you may not given its full due at the time of its release.
I knew I was too hard on this album the last time I reviewed it.