Fables of the Reconstruction, R.E.M.'s third album, was released in 1985. It is definitely the most overlooked gem in their catalog. Many think R.E.M. begins and ends at "Losing My Religion," "Everybody Hurts," and "It's the End of the World as We Know It." Well, I'm here to tell you these songs are not their beginning and end. There is so much more to this wonderful, playful, jangly, proto-alternative band than a few catchy tunes in the late eighties/early nineties.
Interestingly, all these popular tunes were released years after R.E.M. recorded their very best music. They had their best output during the early eighties. But all too often, this period of their history is glazed over by the almighty Automatic for the People released in 1992.
I say this is a travesty. I find the lack of attention Fables of the Reconstruction receives somewhat peculiar. Sure, it is not as upbeat-sounding as most of their other music, and it is definitely a departure from anything else they have attempted.
But I love this departure. Fables is R.E.M. getting in touch with their Southern roots more so than anything else they have ever recorded. It is where they find part of their voice, the thing that makes them who they are.
Though they are southern, they are not country. But their Southern flavor is completely unrestrained in Fables and goes haywire. The gritty sound of southern blues is juxtaposed with a light, alternative feel. To me, this is heaven. Maybe that is a slight exaggeration. But still, this must be one of my all time favorite albums.
Their trademark jangly pop is combined with the dark legends and myths of the American south. This is really cool and ultimately unique combination. You cannot find a record like Fables by any other band, or at least any band as mainstream as R.E.M.
And they pull it off masterfully. Fables of the Reconstruction is the culmination of the Holy Trinity of R.E.M.'s first three albums, and what a culmination it is. Starting with the sparse, plucking electric guitar and joining strings in the opening track "Feeling Gravity's Pull," the listener is instantly sucked into the moody spell conjured by Michael Stripe's slurring and cryptic lyrics, oozing pure Southern mythos.
Track three, "Driver 8," is a catchy and dark tune about God knows what. And it has a harmonica, as many other songs on the album do, perfecting the folksy feel unique to this album. Other songs worthy of mentions include "Can't Get There From Here," "Maps and Legends," "Green Grow the Rushes," and "Wendell Gee." But really, they are all wonderful.
Fans of R.E.M. who have not picked up this album need to first knock their heads against the wall. After that, they need to get up, purchase this album, and listen to it at least six times in a row. Non-fans should probably start with either a singles CD or Automatic for the People, just to get a taste of their catchier work.
You might also like R.E.M. if you like the Pixies, the Talking Heads, The Cranberries, Joy Division, or any other 1980s alternative act. Heck, I'll even throw in Radiohead fans who want a feel of that band's inspiration. But chances are that if you already listen to these bands than you are already duly familiar with the Athens, Georgia jangle-rock band.
Fables of the Reconstruction, often ignored by critics as the oddball out in R.E.M.'s otherwise spotless early discography, is actually their greatest masterpiece. It is the perfect culmination of their guitars and southern roots. It is a bit raw and the production might not be up to snuff in some people's books, but the production lends itself to the raw quality of the album.
People might say the dark and brooding Automatic for the People is R.E.M.'s best. Some might pick the mysterious Murmur, and others the festive Life's Rich Pageant. But I, always and forever, stand proudly by the folksy mythology of Fables of the Reconstruction. Five out of five stars.Powered by Sidelines