Fables Of The Reconstruction (25th Anniversary 2-Disc Re-Issue)
Call it what you will: alternative rock, guitar pop, college radio. For better or worse, R.E.M. were responsible for making it—and making it big. Even a casual listener knows when they hear an R.E.M. song. Theirs has always been a definitive sound: Bill Berry's frenetic drums, Peter Buck's jangly guitar, those literate stream-of-consciousness lyrics, and, of course, Michael Stipe's vulnerable voice, leaping from plaintive wail to cooing croon to murmur (pun intended), often within the same song.
They started out weird. Pretty, sure, but still weird. Then they got famous and became dogmatic, showing up at award shows with serious faces and message t-shirts. R.E.M. relinquished their indie status long ago, leaving behind I.R.S. Records and signing with Warner Brothers in the late '80s. They're now a renowned cornerstone of contemporary American music. R.E.M. was inducted in the Rock N' Roll Hall Of Fame in 2007, and the 1981 song “Radio Free Europe” was recently added to the Library of Congress's National Recording Registry.
Yet just before super-stardom and the soapbox, there was Fables Of The Reconstruction. R.E.M. originally released Fables Of The Reconstruction in June of 1985. Today, it's back—as a 25th anniversary 2-CD re-issue. R.E.M.'s first two albums, Murmur and Reckoning, have both already received the deluxe treatment. Fables Of The Reconstruction is another shining example of R.E.M.'s early-career aesthetic.
The Athens Demos, included as the second disc on the re-issue, stand on their own as excellent alternates to the (now classic) originals. There's precious little variation from demo to album version, yet still just enough difference to be noticeable. They show a band, confident as a collective, fine-tuning these already well-honed songs. Stand-outs include “Can't Get There From Here,” which felt much more playful than the original; “Green Grow The Rushes,” with demo vocals that sounded warmer and more intimate; “Driver 8,” which, although a little off-key and possessing more prominent background vocals, was still charming.
Of the thirteen tracks on The Athens Demos, three were not on the original release. Two of them, “Bandwagon” and “Hyena,” went on to be released on other albums; “Bandwagon” was also a bonus track on the import version of Fables Of The Reconstruction. Then there's “Throw Those Trolls Away,” the much-hyped previously unreleased track that, sadly, is completely forgettable and altogether expendable. It's also worth noting that the songs on the second disc are both out of album sequence (not that odd), and curiously, listed in alphabetical order.
Over the last several years, re-releases have become standard among bands of R.E.M.'s status; deluxe edition re-releases are to today what box sets were to the '90s. Listeners are granted greater access to a band's oeuvre. Plus, if they're die-hard fans and/or music snobs, they're also granted a sense of collection completion—not to mention bragging rights.