R.E.M.: Fables of the Reconstruction
I hadn’t planned to feature another R.E.M. album so soon in my soundtrack series. Y’all know how deeply I love the boys, and how passionate I am about nearly every chord struck or note sung. I can’t describe the pure joy I get from listening to an R.E.M. album (Dan may be able to describe it to you, but I think he’s trying to erase all that effusion from his memory banks). But I love many bands and different genres, so I was planning to go all over the musical landscape this summer, and come back to R.E.M. in the fall.
However, while talking to this month’s crush Friday night, he mentioned — no, apologized — that Fables of the Reconstruction is his favorite R.E.M. album. Apologizing for one of their best (and, sadly, often overlooked) albums? I put on the album immediately, and haven’t listened to anything else since Friday. Thus, once again, we must go down that R.E.M. road.
R.E.M.’s third full-length album, Fables of the Reconstruction (or Reconstruction of the Fables; you can't quite tell from the album cover which is correct) was released in 1985. The album was their departure from producer Mitch Easter and the South. They instead chose Joe Boyd — who produced some of the greatest work by British folk artists Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, and Richard Thompson, among others — and recorded the album in London. Ironically, Fables is R.E.M.'s most Southern album. I’ve read that Bill Berry loathes it and Peter Buck hated “Wendell Gee,” but I think it’s brilliant.
Fables is, in a word, evocative. It conjures the feel of the South — kudzu and eccentrics and humid summer nights and the mood that permeates the region. It’s a mood that can’t be described, only felt — and it comes through when you listen to Fables from beginning to end. Hence, the obsessive, nonstop listenings of the last few days as I sat on the porch and stared into the trees.
There isn’t a bad song on the album. For personal reasons, my favorite is “Good Advices,” but I absolutely adore “Green Grow the Rushes” and “Feeling Gravity’s Pull.” Love the “Wendell Gee” lyric If the wind were colors / And if the air could speak; beautiful, visual words, Michael.
Why doesn’t Fables get its due? I guess because it was followed by Life’s Rich Pageant and Document, which took R.E.M. to a new level.
But enough with the music-nerd pontifications. What makes an album great is what it means to you, right?
Whenever I hear Fables, I’m transported back to a mid-September night in 1985. My paramour and I had attended a University of Georgia football game with my parents. We rode back to Atlanta with Renae, who was in school at UGA. We drove down dark two-lane roads, windows open, breezes blowing, listening to Fables, laughing and talking and singing along. In the dark, the three of us felt like the only people on the earth, the only ones soaking up the beautiful night and beautiful songs. It was one of those perfect moments that never fades. And that’s why I love Fables of the Reconstruction.
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