Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Album Review: REM – Fables of the Reconstruction

REM’s third album, originally released in 1985 never received great reviews, and as far as I know is not a fan favourite. It’s not the most alluring of albums, they changed the sound which had worked so well on Murmur and Reckoning and moved to England to record it with Joe Boyd. Replacing the bright sound of its predecessors with a strange kind of lethargic murk, for those familiar with later REM this is a curious beast. The album doesn’t really care whether you like it or not, not like the likes of The One I Love, or even the Out of Time album, specifically Losing My Religion which reaches out and gives you a great big vice-like hug.

Anyway, opener Feeling Gravity’s Pull certainly doesn’t want to hug you, starting with a dischordant guitar which leads into some strings, giving the song a foreboding air. The Peter Buck jangly charm is still here, just overlaid by other things going on. Michael Stipe’s lyrics are as impenetrable as ever, making this a ‘grower’ of an album rather than an instant one. Even hearing it now, it’s quite a jarring first track. Maps and Legends is fairly direct, with a relatively simple chord progression and a great vocal performance.

Driver 8 is faster, with an almost country influence on Stipe’s vocals in the upbeat chorus. It’s one of the faster REM songs in a mostly midtempo catalogue, and certainly one of the most propulsive things her on a mostly blissfully downbeat album. Tracks like Old Man Kensey, Green Grow the Rushes and Good Advices are very pretty, in a looking down at your feet kind of way (as advised by Good Advices: “when you meet a stranger look at his shoes”).

There are faint influences of the Durutti Column on this album (Life and How to Live It) and some rather unfortunate brass-funk (Can’t Get There From Here), but on the whole it’s an enjoyable album.

Ideal circumstances to listen: Walking through a dense forested area on a dry, humid Thursday in September.