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I spent the last month listening to every REM studio album in chronological order - Fables of the Reconstruction

So, I spent the whole last post in this series (Reckoning) talking about how the record is so much more upbeat and when I read some old reviews of that album and they kept talking about how it deals with darker topics than Murmur. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

To keep consistent in quality during these posts, I now want to start by honouring an important feature of early the early IRS years from REM, which disappeared with this album:

Micheal Stipes amazing hair.

Everyone who only knows REM from the 90s is completely confused now, but he used to have amazing hair, which can only be described as long flowing locks of auburn. They all had a miserable time making this album and Stipe reacted by cutting his hair off and colouring it blonde. By the next album he had coloured it pinkish red and then slowly went back to his natural colour, he grew it long again for a hot minute and when the 90's came around cut it off and then shaved it off, because he was going bald. RIP beautiful hair, you are remembered at least by me.

But lets talk about the album!

Fables of the Reconstruction
The reviews, I smartly decided to read beforehand this time, tell me this is a concept album, about the idea of the American South. To me, it is the most interesting of the IRS records, it is the weirdest and has a lot of experiments sound wise. It starts with the electric guitar riffs of Feeling Gravity's pull, moves on to the more faster paced folky single Driver 8 and ends with the melodic off-beat Wendell Gee. It has a string arrangement in Feeling Gravity's pull, a harmonica in Driver 8, a brass section in Can't get there from here (which I did not even notice at first, it is fits so well into the song) and a beautiful banjo part in Wendell Gee.

Beautiful is a good descriptor for this album, it is full of beautiful melodies (Maps and Legends, Green Grow the Rushes and the aforementioned Wendell Gee), I have a hard time concentrating and writing something coherent, because I keep stopping just to close my eyes and soak in the music. This album is often listed as a favourite by fans of the IRS era, me included (REM members usually list Murmur). It combines all the best things from Murmur and Reckoning, while experimenting with the sounds from these albums. The lyrics tell stories, strange dreamlike stories, but understandable enough for critics to determine a theme and this is the album where they started to mix the vocals into the foreground (something the producer, Joe Boyd convinced Stipe to do).
REM almost split during the making of the album, they had a miserable time, being stuck in rainy England, burned out from touring and frustrated with their record company (IRS), while their record company was frustrated with them for refusing to be less weird. Maybe beautiful art does require the artist to suffer, I'm glad they stuck to their guns considering being weird.

Shout outs:

  • Feeling Gravity's pull is one one of my favourite songs, not just one of my favourite REM songs, but simply one of my favourite songs. I love Buck's sharp electric lead guitar, a departure from his usual melodic guitar style. I love the break, where the song dissolves from the sharp electric sound into Stipe and Mills harmonizing. I love how the short string arrangement increases the drama of the song.

  • Green Grow the Rushes is the most beautiful REM song. I actually went to find the different versions (original album version, remastered and demo version) and played around with levels to try and here the different parts. It is basically 3 or 4 different melodies (bass, guitar, 2 vocals), harmonizing or running counterpoint to each other. It is also the first explicitly political lyrics from Stipe (about migrant labour), something that will become more frequent and reach critical mass with Green.

  • Peter Buck did not like Wendell Gee he only agreed for it to be on the album after they added the banjo part and is probably the reason why they seldom play it live. Why? No idea. It doesn't only have Mills' backing vocals, but also Berry harmonizing in the background. Berry does not get enough credit, most of the time people only comment on his drumming, but he is also a really good songwriter (Perfect Circle, Everybody Hurts, Leave) and a good singer. Every time Stipe, Mills and him harmonize, magic happens.

  • Closing thoughts: Is it an album every music collection needs? Yes, because then you can tell people that this is your favourite REM album and that they went downhill after, which is the music snob thing to do. Otherwise, yes, if you are interested in early REM and like beautiful music. You can also watch the Rockpalast concert from 2nd October 1985 (it's on youtube) for the IRS years experience (they were so young). This album and Lifes Rich Pageant are my favourite from the IRS years. Lifes Rich Pageant is up next and with it we can start playing the game: is this the album REM sold-out with?

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