R.E.M’s third album, and a world away from Around The Sun. If it wasn’t for Stipe’s vocals you wouldn’t recognise them as the same band. Clearly, this is a far better album than the latter, but I’m not a massive fan of R.E.M. in their jangly Southern country folk rock days. It’s their forte of course, but I was never a trendy enough indie kid to be an ‘early R.E.M. fan’, so it wasn’t until Document that they first caught my ear.
Fables still has the slightly muddy swamp river sound of their first two albums, and was produced by legendary producer Joe Boyd, best known for producing such classics as early Pink Floyd, Nick Drake and Fairport Convention. Personally, I prefer the work Scott Litt did to lighten things up a little during their winning streak from Document to New Adventures in Hi-Fi.
My favourite tracks on here are when they add a little something different to the mix, such as the strings on Feeling Gravity’s Pull and the unexpectedly wonky chord changes on Auctioneer (Another Engine). Wendell Gee is another highlight, just a lovely heartfelt ballad. The radio-friendly rockers such as Driver 8 and Cant Get There From Here [sic] are fun, but don’t do much for me personally.
All the classic REM elements are here: Stipe’s strained vocals and obscure lyrics, Buck’s jangly guitar, Mills’ harmonisation and Berry’s workmanlike drums. This album shows their ongoing development, but its not a signification step-change between Reckoning and their next Lifes Rich Pageant [sic – what is it with R.E.M. and their dislike of punctuation?] My CD copy of this album is the 1992 I.R.S. Vintage Years re-release, which includes a couple of B-sides and live versions of Driver 8 and Maps and Legends. These are perhaps the most interesting aspects of this album, because they’re almost carbon copies of the studio recordings. This tells you two things – R.E.M. were not very adventurous in the studio, and that they were bloody amazing live.
Best Bits: Feeling Gravity’s Pull / Maps and Legends Live
Genre: Indie Folk Rock
Like This, Try This: Around The Sun. Not really, only joking.