Monday, July 18, 2011

R.E.M. 3: Fables Of The Reconstruction

For their third album, the boys from Athens hooked up with legendary producer Joe Boyd (who’d worked with Pink Floyd, Nick Drake, Fairport Convention and the like) in London to record an album still infused with the mythology of the American South. The metallic jangle of the first two albums was a little blurred on Fables Of The Reconstruction, but in the process they managed to both satisfy their rabid fan base and grab a few new acolytes along the way.
A dissonant riff peals through throughout “Feeling Gravitys Pull”, which simmers with dread even after the strings come in. Also in a minor key, but providing the majestic feel common to the album is “Maps And Legends”, another one of those songs that’s just on the verge of meaning something. “Driver 8” was a moderate hit, with a jaunty video about trains to match. “Life And How To Live It” is as catchy as any song with buried vocals can be, while “Old Man Kensey” slows everything down for a tribute to a local oddball.
Even those who always hated R.E.M. can get behind the almost funky “Cant Get There From Here”, with words one can almost figure out, a catchy chorus and even a horn section that doesn’t get in the way. “Green Grow The Rushes” takes a folk melody to (supposedly) talk about Latin American foreign policy, and “Kohoutek” not only buries the lyric, but spells the title any number of ways. The claustrophobia returns on the tense “Auctioneer (Another Engine)”, which considers more trains. “Good Advices” provides a gentle respite (and good advice besides), and an ode to “Wendell Gee” brings it all home sweetly.
While the band was just on the edge to gaining mainstream success, Fables Of The Reconstruction managed to sound like nothing else that year, and increase the band’s mystique, to the point where it still remains a favorite. The 25th Anniversary Edition arrived right on time, and while it could have been packaged similar to the previous Deluxe Editions, it was from a different label, and R.E.M. isn’t about to make things easy for anybody. Instead of a concert recording, here they treat us to some demos of the candidates for the album before they flew to London to record. The demos appear in alphabetical order, which is almost certainly not the order in which they were captured; if we’re wrong, we’d be delighted. Peter Buck’s (brief) liner notes talk about how unprepared they were for this, the difficult third album. He doth protest too much, but far be it from him to let the truth get in the way of a good story. What’s truly amazing about these demos is how much of the album is already in place—guitar parts and lyrics alike. Bill beats a tattoo on “Feeling Gravitys Pull”, which someone (probably Joe Boyd) pulled into check by the time the album proper was recorded. And we do get “Throw Those Trolls Away”, which likely turned into “When I Was Young”, listed on the album’s original inner sleeve, but didn’t appear until the next album as the much-improved “I Believe”.

R.E.M. Fables Of The Reconstruction (1985)—
2010 25th Anniversary Edition: same as 1985, plus 14 extra tracks

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