Tuesday, January 17, 2023

REM #3: Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)

Release Date: June 10, 1985

Members: Michael Stipe (vocals); Peter Buck (guitars); Michael Mills (bass, keyboards); Bill Berry (percussion)

Produced by Joe Boyd

Track List: Feeling Gravity's Pull; Maps and Legends; Driver 8; Life and How to Live It; Old Man Kensey

Side Two: Can't Get There from Here; Green Grow the Rushes; Kohoutek; Auctioneer (Another Engine); Good Advices; Wendell Gee

Fables of the Reconstruction marked REM's third LP in as many years, continuing to hone and build upon the sound developed in Murmur and Reckoning

A hypnotic "D" chord opens "Feeling Gravity's Pull" a song about falling asleep while reading, but the lyrics suggest much more. A musing on the basic forces around us and how strange they are in reality, "Time and distance are out of place here" sings Stipe. Entering into the realm of sleep and dreams means going outside of linear time, the moment of falling asleep remains an intangible part of being human. References to experimental artist Man Ray's skies and strings on the fadeout add to the majestic mosaic of sound in a metaphysical pop song.

"Maps and Legends" marks the first appearance of the many eccentrics who appear on the record. Peter Buck's melodic hooks are on full display in a modern folk song. "Driver 8" is pure Americana in its recounting of a train journey through a surreal and often empty landscape. "Life and How to Live It" probably dealt with a local eccentric in Athens, Georgia, home base of REM, adding to the homespun feel of the album. As the title suggests, "Old Man Kinsey" is another hermit who seems to be both a curiosity and a menace, carried along by Buck's guitar which tells a tale of its own.

"Can't Get There from Here" may be the first time Stipe inhabits a character in a song, singing in a thick Georgia accent, inhabiting the characters he's writing about, there's a Gothic touch and a horn section. "Green Grow the Rushes" is more in the baroque pop of Reckoning with its lavish production, lyrically a song about economic exploitation. "Kohoutek" relates another oblique fable, a reference to a comet that passed Earth in 1973 but failed to live up to spectacular predictions of an amazing night sky. 

"Auctioneer (Another Engine)" is a surreal break up song packed imagery from the old America of trains, perhaps a prequel to one of the earlier tracks, it would made for an intriguing short film. A song of loneliness with images of old shoes and odd encounters, "Good Advices" seems to assuage the listener in its melodies and melancholy musings. "Wendell Gee" has a country western flavor with a prominent banjo, inspired by an Athens local the band once knew, tells another hazy story of mortality with hints of sentimentality. 

Fables of the Reconstruction consists of fragments of folk tales, inspired by Athens, but all given a poignancy in their subtle constructions. In the tradition of literary luminaries like Faulkner and Twain, the album's appeal has ebbed and flowed but offers rewards for all. 

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