Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Feeling Gravitys Pull

"It's the most tense record we've ever made." — Peter Buck

R.E.M. wasn't sugarcoating things.

The things that make Fables of the Reconstruction of the Fables great are all laid down right in the first seconds of the first track on the first side.

The atonal, dissonant guitar line with its muted chicken scratch and eerie harmonics, sounding like a pensive air raid siren composed by Béla Bartók for Eddie Hazel to play when sitting in with Sonic Youth circa 1987.

The tribal drumming, which sounds like it's conveying the urgent message that the village is inundated with a horrific outbreak and it's best to stay well away.

The rumbling bass, which sounds like the precursor to a serious but not devastating earthquake.

The lyrics which are ever so slightly clearer than on previous releases, but for the first time what you can hear isn't just enigmatic, it's unsettling, even threatening, with imagery of a world that is, at best, teetering on the edge and is more likely in the throes of extreme violence.
Peel back the mountains, peel back the sky
Stomp gravity into the floor
Time and distance are out of place here
Shift sway rivers shift, oceans fall and mountains drift
It's a Man Ray kind of sky
Let me show you what I can do with it
Reason had harnessed the tame
Holding the sky in their arms
Gravity pulls me down
It's odd and offputting, miles away (4159 of them, in fact) from the immediately engaging opening tracks of their first two albums.

And yet...and yet there's the tender, tentative singing from Stipe on both the surprising, gently hopeful bridge-like section, and the outro. Yet even there, on the latter, it's paired with odd, jarring, disturbing strings which—far from sweetening, the usual use of strings on a pop song—set the listener on edge, taking an already disconcerting song and bringing it to a troubled, unresolved close, like a bad dream from which you awaken before it gets really bad...but which you know was going to soon.

It fades to a close, but not quite all the way to silence, allowing us to hear that the issues are, without question, unresolved. Will they be in subsequent songs? It's doubtful, but hope springs eternal.

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