R.E.M.
Fables of the Reconstruction


4.0
excellent

Review

by Jack Fraser USER (24 Reviews)
April 22nd, 2019 | 8 replies


Release Date: 1985 | Tracklist

Review Summary: R.E.M.'s first left turn is ambitious, compelling, and well-performed, but let down by some less-than-memorable deep cuts.

While there were some indications on Reckoning that R.E.M. was getting just a little sick of their jangle-pop status quo, Fables of the Reconstruction is the first real left turn in their discography. Perpetually underrated (and easy to skip over among their more beloved records of the era), Fables is certainly a more difficult listen than the other IRS releases, pairing upbeat all-time classics with murky and challenging deep cuts that tend to conceptually bleed into each-other. That being said, the album is maybe their most thematically compelling, and superb performances by Mills and Buck in particular elevate songwriting that shows blemishes for the first time.

Opener “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” immediately sours Buck’s typical guitar arpeggios, tense with harmonics in the verses and ringing with menace backdropping Stipe’s “step up… step up…” refrain. While the song itself may not be one of the band’s better openers, the group always had a knack for setting the tone early, and “Gravity” lays the groundwork for a record filled with medium tempo minor-key bass-driven tracks. This is quickly validated by “Old Man Kensey,” one of many Stipe pieces here about an elderly outsider, which could be a slog if not for Mills’ steady backing vocals and Buck’s descending triplets. Buck, who had by this point established a unique playing style, takes a major step forward on Fables, varying between his traditional jangling picking, atmospheric and imposing post-punk, and even Johnny Marr-style strumming on “Can’t Get There from Here.” His playing anchors many of the tracks that threaten to meander off the rails; that being said, the jangling arpeggios do function almost as a safety blanket by the end of the record. With no disrespect to Bill Berry, who turns in a consistently strong performance, Mike Mills is the other standout on here. Throughout R.E.M.’s discography there’s a direct positive relationship between how much Mills gets to do and record quality, and Fables is no different. His sunny harmonies make every song they touch more beautiful, from “Green Grow the Rushes” to the otherwise average closer “Wendell Gee.”

“Maps and Legends” is perhaps the perfect encapsulation of what this record aims at (and barely falls short) – the lyrics are mysterious but somehow in their vagueness paint a distinctly Southern picture, the tempo is patient but driven steadily by Buck, and the stunning chorus is perhaps the best Mills/Stipe collaboration until “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” The songs that directly follow it, “Driver 8” and “Life and How to Live it,” are even better, two of the best the band ever wrote. Oddly enough, they sound more comfortable in a best-of compilation than here. While both are lyrically tied to the themes of the record, instrumentally they have more in common with the material on Reckoning. Nonetheless, their presence significantly elevates an album dotted with the band’s first unmemorable material; most will be hard-pressed to quite remember the tunes of songs like “Auctioneer” or “Good Advices” even after many listens.

Extracting “Driver 8” and “Life and How to Live It” does a disservice to Fables’ ambition and thematic pull. While the songwriting is not as consistently strong here as on almost all of its IRS brothers, the performances and identity of this record are impressive in their own right. Whereas Reckoning and Murmur were excellent collections of tracks without a compelling through-line, Fables of the Reconstruction is the opposite: a conceptually unified album unfortunately let down by a few unmemorable tracks.



Recent reviews by this author
R.E.M. Out of TimeR.E.M. Green
R.E.M. DocumentR.E.M. Lifes Rich Pageant
R.E.M. ReckoningR.E.M. Murmur
user ratings (358)
Chart.
3.8
excellent
other reviews of this album
Zebra (3.5)
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Point1
April 22nd 2019


548 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

R.E.M. discog part 3. I like this record a lot, and more than I expected to. I think the overall vibe is really cool, and tracks 2-4 are a crazy good run. Even though I enjoy listening to it as a whole, I don't think I could hum those last three songs if I tried, which is definitely not the case with the first two.



Think that the first two are 8.5/10, whereas this is more of an 8.

ArsMoriendi
April 22nd 2019


26226 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

3 4's in a row? Hmmm.

Digging: Foxygen - Take The Kids Off Broadway

Point1
April 22nd 2019


548 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Spoiler alert but you've got one more to go.

DadKungFu
April 22nd 2019


654 Comments


Album's hell of transitional, good but not great. Are you going through the whole R.E.M. discography?

Point1
April 22nd 2019


548 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

That's the plan, hopefully I stick with it.

Sunnyvale
April 22nd 2019


1044 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Unpopular opinion, but this is my favorite R.E.M. album. I love the sound they have here, so many haunting tunes. And the one-two punch to end the album of Good Advices and Wendell Gee gets me every time.

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
April 23rd 2019


41802 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

I really dig the creepy, dessicated Southern Gothic feel this album has going for it. Gravitys Pull in particular is downright unnerving. I'd stan for Good Advices too, great song

Digging: The National - I Am Easy to Find

Point1
April 23rd 2019


548 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

I definitely love that vibe, I think the production problems get overstated with this record and it's the songs themselves that don't live up to the albums potential. Underrated record for sure though.



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