Monday, August 24, 2015

Fables of the Reconstruction Turns 30

Fables of the Reconstruction turns 30 this year, amazingly.

The third full-length release from R.E.M., and the album that in 1985 seemed to move them ever so gently into the mainstream (a process that wasn’t completed until the phenomenal Document was released in 1987), Fables seems to stand alone among R.E.M. albums in terms of inspiring such disparate opinion and reaction. None other than Bill Berry made his opinion of Fables clear in a Rolling Stone interview in 1987 with a Spinal Tap-esque two word review: “Fables sucked.”

It didn’t, of course, and Bill’s overwhelming greatness aside, hell, even the best of us get it wrong sometimes. (And facts be damned, that's one awesome review.)

But either way, for decades fans and critics have been divided on the record. Many were turned off by its grim murkiness, an abrupt departure from R.E.M.'s first two records, which while lyrically oblique and often atmospheric still had a gentle, soaring quality that also defined for a generation R.E.M.'s folksy southern jangle. Others didn’t care for the country turns the album occasionally took, and some found it steeped too richly in vague Southern Gothic mythology, while horns are often a lightning rod for rock fans. (The fools.) Yet the album has its champions too, as many believe it was R.E.M. first successful reach outside its comfort zone, with musicianship that matched its daring and lyrics that proved to be some of the finest of their career.

So did Fables of the Reconstruction work? Did it fail? What exactly was the impact of this strange, brooding album which, all arguments aside, remains perhaps the most musically diverse album of the band's early years.

The two of us here at Reason to Believe will spend the next few days looking at Reconstruction of the Fables as a whole and also breaking it down, song by song, to examine every inch of an album which meant so much to us in our formative years and which has only grown in stature since.

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