Fables Of The Reconstruction


IRS Records, 1985


REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


R.E.M. had an almost Beatles-like work ethic during most of the ‘80s. Between 1983 and 1988, they released an album a year. It’s hard to imagine that type of output from today’s bands. Even when Radiohead released Amnesiac a year after Kid A, it was greeted as a quick follow-up. For R.E.M., that type of action was business as usual.

Fables of the Reconstruction, R.E.M.’s third album, was the beginning of the end of R.E.M.’s “early” stage, which would officially end with Life’s Rich Pageant. After that album, R.E.M. moved into “blockbuster” status with five platinum-plus selling albums (The commercial disappointing but underrated as hell my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 New Adventures in Hi-Fi helped usher R.E.M. into their current stage, the “what the hell are we still doing?” stage).

Recorded in England, Fables of the Reconstruction sounded more cluttered and standoffish from R.E.M.’s earlier releases. The standoffish nature of the album totally matched Michael Stipe’s onstage aloofness, and the organic feel of the album highlighted an obsession with folk and lyrics cryptic enough for a William Faulkner novel.

Listening to the album for a third and fourth time, I have yet to find a “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” or “Radio Free Europe” –type catchy song. Even without a song like this, Peter Buck continued to make riffs that made him one of the more recognizable guitarists in the ‘80s (creating a sound that was simplistic enough to make his style easily recognizable, but quirky enough to have few peers).

When you look at college rock in the ‘80s, it’s easy to view each band as fulfilling at type of mood. Of course, The Cure was played when you felt like throwing a pity party, The Replacements when you wanted to get drunk, The Pixies when you wanted to get wild. For Fables of the Reconstruction, it’s puzzling what mood you would have to be in to listen to it front-to-back. The album sounds like a stream-of-conscious mess. Not even the lead-off track is memorable - yet, despite all this, the album was able to sell an impressive 300,000 copies. The likelihood of an album like Fables selling that many copies in today’s musical environment is about as likely as Pearl Jam campaigning for Bill Frist’s 2008 presidential run.

After two years of nonstop recording and touring, Fables shows R.E.M. in a transition period. Tired, weary and still trying to find their sound, too often Fables sounds like R.E.M. was thinking aloud. It’s arguably R.E.M.’s weakest album of their “pre-blockbuster” phase. But for fans or people who are curious as to what college rock sounded like in the early '80s before it was co-opted by everyone from MTV to Miller Genuine Draft, Fables is a compelling listen.

Rating: B-

User Rating: B+



© 2006 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of IRS Records, and is used for informational purposes only.