American Graffiti’s review of the experimental underrated concept album by R.E.M.
By Carter Bagley
The first two albums by alternative rock icons R.E.M. were perfect but since the band was constantly working and touring they finally showed signs of wear on their third studio album “Fables of the Reconstruction”. For some reason the album received much less attention at the time of it’s release than the band’s first two album got. It even seems to be aggressively overlooked by R.E.M. super fans, which if you think about it is very weird. There’s probably multiple reasons for this, one could be overexposure of the band by 1985 but I highly doubt that as the next two albums received great attention. The other two reasons I agree with is that like I mentioned before, it just didn’t get a ton of attention or praise like the others did; also it’s much darker and moodier in tone than the pop rock style R.E.M. had on their two previous efforts. Either way it doesn’t mean that “Fables of the Reconstruction” isn’t a really good album. I’m not gonna lie and say it’s as good as “Murmur”, “Reckoning” or “Document”, but it’s still a very satisfying fresh album by the band. Right from the first song “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” (which is quite a great song) you can hear the darker tone of the songs and it even has a haunting string instrumentation at the end of it. It’s very mellow and doesn’t build up to much, but it’s a nice listen if you give it a chance to let it grow on you. The next song “Maps and Legends” follows the same kinda tone but minus the haunting instrumentation. Michael Stipe’s vocals are calm and intense though and the band delivers a fascinating instrumentation. It’s track 3 “Driver 8” though where the band really gets the album into a groove. It’s still mellowed out but very catchy and it rocks an unquestionable southern sound to it. By this point in the album you also start to hear the concept of the theme of mythology from the rural south where the group is very familiar with. It also has a pleasing subtle harmonica by Peter Buck mixed in. “Life and How to Live It” is also one of my favorites amongst the songs on the album and it opens with a guitar almost reminiscent of Sonic Youth or The Cure. Stipe also delivers some great lyrics on this song that are no doubt some of the best on the entire record. The album takes a dip though on the fifth song “Old Man Kensey”. It is not a bad song as Peter Buck, Mike Mills, and Bill Berry do great with the guitars and percussion, it’s just Stipe’s vocal performance and the lyrics don’t intrigue me all that much. The changes on the next song though “Can’t Get There From Here” where he delivers a vocal performance that’s very nuanced at times and very energetic at others. The backing vocals also add a catchiness to it that’s unmistakable. They add in horns to the already fun instrumentation and it turns this song into an alternative rock track with traces of the deep south in there. The next two songs “Green Grow The Rushes” and “Kohoutek” are passable and the former is probably the better of the two. The deliver the same sort of mellowed out vibe to them. “Auctioneer (Another Engine)” is very energetic and isn’t the best on the album but it’s catchy and enjoyable nonetheless. The second the last song “Good Advices” picks the album up though and it’s a nice catchy and well written tune that’s very underrated in the bands discography. Unlike some of the other songs it has the same chime-like guitar that “Reckoning” had and it sounds like it could’ve been from that period. The song concludes with the beautiful, expertly written and charming “Wendell Gee”. It’s a great conclusion and also features a mix of southern rock and R.E.M.’s signature style of pop rock. It also makes a banjo work extremely well which you got to give this song credit for. “Fables of the Reconstruction” is an often overlooked album that shows the band was looking for new and original sounds and ideas, and even though it’s not their best of their IRS years it’s still a strong effort.
Highlights: Feeling Gravity’s Pull, Driver 8, Life and How to Live It, Can’t Get There From Here, Good Advices, Wendell Gee
Lowlights: Old Man Kensey, Green Grow the Rushes, Kohoutek