Recorded with legendary English Folk/Rock producer Joe Boyd, the sessions for REM’s third album were full of tension. The writing process was difficult, if still prolific – but what I want to know is why Joe Boyd? If REM were impressed with the sound of those classic sixties and seventies Folk Rock outings from the likes of Nick Drake, Sandy Denny or Fairport Convention, then they should have paid closer attention! John Wood engineered all of those artists classic works, he was the man responsible for the sound and ambience of those records. Joe Boyd was the kind of guy to take an act under his wing and nurture them, provide support. He was a great organiser, but it was John Wood who captured the vocals of Nick Drake so well, for instance. John Wood took no part in the recording process for ‘Fables Of The Reconstruction’, thus a great opportunity was lost. Joe Boyd wasn’t with the group for long enough ‘to take them under his wing’, even if REM had needed such a attitude. REM have always been a pretty self-contained unit. Anyway, what’s the record like? It’s good, but with reservations. Although there are a clutch of songs here that surely rank amongst the groups finest work, other songs sound rushed through. It’s not ‘a beautifully recorded’ album either, although the sound is refreshingly live sounding. The most notable aspect that leaps out at you is just how obscure and dark much of the material sounds. Either intentionally or not, one thing Joe Boyd and company did manage to do was create one hell of an atmospheric record!
‘Feeling Gravitys Pull’ is suitably obscure poetics, ‘Maps And Legends’ similary so. Guitars are to the fore, although not ROCK guitar, rather delicate, hard to grasp sounding guitar. ‘Maps And Legends’ is quite beautiful, actually. ‘Driver 8’ is a song that could have sat quite happily on either on the first two REM albums. It’s a beauty of a song! The music here is wonderfully performed, by the way – especially the instrumental breaks. ‘Life And How To Live It’ isn’t as great a song as ‘Driver 8’ but benefits from ‘tension filled’ energy, which is how the song comes across to me. It’s a rush, ultimately. ‘Old Man Kensey’ is rather dreary, although the vocal parts are nice. ‘Can’t Get There From Here’ is a slightly more straightforward sounding song and a hint towards future REM. ‘Green Grow The Rushes Grow’ is absolutely heartbreakingly gorgeous, and I could go on, but I won’t. Every song here is at least interesting, although some of the closing songs start to irritate simply due to the lack of sonic variety, although the songs provide enough variety within themselves, ‘Wendell Gee’ featuring little country picking, for example. The atmosphere, dark and uneasy – isn’t quite maintained from beginning to end….. but, but. This is another beautiful REM album, although I say that with certain reservations. It isn’t a ‘confident’ sounding REM, there truly is something disquieting about the whole experience.