Showing 14 posts tagged r.e.m.


Auctioneer (Another Engine)




Fables Of The Reconstruction [UK Bonus Edition]

'Auctioneer (Another Engine)' - Fables of the Reconstruction

Fables of the Reconstruction/Reconstruction of the Fables (1985) slows down and goes southern. After two albums produced by Mitch Easter and Don Dixon, they went to modern folk producer Joe Boyd, in London.

The title and its inversion on the sleeve point to two themes: storytelling and myth and worldbuilding, and the Reconstruction Era but more broadly the South, the gothic, ghostly South. The storytelling songs have a town-based sense to them, too, with outsider artist Howard Finster in ‘Maps and Legends’, the eccentric town legends in ‘Old Man Kensey’ and ‘Wendell Gee’. ‘Good Advices’ and ‘Life and How to Live It’ are like odd siblings, one about manners and wise judgement, the other about a schizophrenic man who splits his house down the centre, but both manuals for living, both at a remove from the world.

'Driver 8' and 'Auctioneer (Another Engine)' are both train-related and sound at a remove from the modern world, too. 'Driver 8' takes in the construction of the rural landscape as well as the journey through it, and hard work away from home. 'Can't Get There From Here' is on the road too - “Philomath is where I'm going” managing to sound abstract and grand as well as literally being a town in Georgia, scraps of the world around them strung together into lyrics. It also appears to be sung by Stipe in the most marked accent of any of the band's songs.

'Auctioneer' is propulsive, building momentum, leaving mementos behind and getting out of town, and it would read like a road song about escape if you didn't stop to catch “listen to the bargain holler/listen to the barter holler/listen to the auctioneer”, adding frantic terror like a fire sale before going on the run. There isn't a destination, just a very rapid exit, and the progression of the song would convey this even if the words weren't heightening it.

The album opens with strings and closes with banjo, and there’s a close, intimate, layered quality to the songs that’s caught between their early period and the next move to songs cast wide open.

'Can't Get There From Here' - Fables of the Reconstruction

The chorus of “can’t get there from here” overlaid on the backing “I’ve been there” is pretty delightful. Also, Lawyer Jeff is then manager Jefferson Holt, whose namecheck in ‘Little America’ (“Jefferson, I think we’re lost”) is switched to ‘Washington’ when played now - ‘Can’t Get There From Here’ doesn’t show up in a cursory search of setlists since Holt’s departure, so maybe it’s not an issue for this one.


I Believe




Lifes Rich Pageant

'I Believe' - Lifes Rich Pageant

There’s a pervasive political theme to Lifes Rich Pageant - the Cold War and the arms race as a small town under threat in ‘Hyena’, the effects of US support for the army in Guatemala (obliquely) in ‘The Flowers of Guatemala’, the appropriation and pollution of the titular river in ‘Cuyahoga’, a call to (popular) arms in ‘Begin the Begin’, and an all-purpose sense of inundation in ‘Fall On Me’.

Thing is, you could readily ignore any grand ideas being attached to the songs. The songs are bigger, and the album is back to a rock producer (Don Gehman), with the lyrics enunciated. It opens with a sort of challenge, crashing through ‘Begin the Begin’ with every word ringing out clear. ‘Fall On Me’ is particularly sweet-toned and plaintive, anxiety into cathartic chorus, while ‘The Flowers of Guatemala’ goes with slow-building unease.

'Underneath the Bunker' deserves a mention for being one of the stranger songs on their albums - jarring, distorted vocals and vaguely Mexican guitar, two short verses about hiding in a bunker, and it ends abruptly to allow the hazy first verse of 'The Flowers of Guatemala' to fill the silence. It sort of works, but it's hard to imagine how it ended up there.

The last three songs are a bit peculiar too. The closer is a coy cover of The Clique’s ‘Superman’ with Mike Mills on lead vocals, sounding like the best outtake ever. Right before that, faux folk ‘Swan Swan H’ goes back to Fables of the Reconstruction's Civil War/Reconstruction thing, utterly sombre and joyless. By contrast, that's preceded by the hooting, shouted, gleeful, stomping anthem-with-glissando 'Just A Touch', which sounds like a cover and goes out with Stipe roaring a line from Patti Smith's 'Privilege', “I'm so young/I'm so goddamn young”.

'I Believe' is like a personal counterpart to the political-toned songs. The banjo intro gives way to jangle, accordion following in later, and there's a deluge of images all sort of filtering down to “change is what I believe in”. It's weary in spite of the positivity, positive in spite of the weariness, and one of their strongest songs from this period.

'Fall On Me' - Lifes Rich Pageant

Though it was released as a single and isn’t exactly buried, ‘Fall On Me’ merits emphasis as it’s gorgeous, especially the counterpoint on the chorus between Michael Stipe and Mike Mills.

(I’ve always assumed their fixation with putting lyrics in videos is the same sort of wry, obstinate helpfulness as the Reckoning/File Under Water nod to classification difficulties.)


Disturbance At The Heron House




Document [UK Bonus Edition]

'Disturbance at the Heron House' - Document

Document is closer to Lifes Rich Pageant than to poppy Warner debut Green, except for two big differences: ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)’ and ‘The One I Love’, bonafide hit singles if not quite top of the charts yet. This is the first of the Scott Litt-produced albums, and it’s clear and riffy.

The political themes are still here, and they’ll continue through Green and beyond. The peppy ‘Exhuming McCarthy’ has one obvious point of reference and appears to be digging it back up for Reagan, ‘It’s The End Of The World…’ is a whole load of things but present politicians similarly to how ‘Begin the Begin’ did, ‘Finest Worksong’ is labour-related and a call for engagement rather than retreat, ‘Disturbance at the Heron House’ is scattered around a protest or demonstration, and there’s a non-specific wholesale destruction in ‘Fireplace’ that’s probably not just thorough spring-cleaning.

'The One I Love' is, notoriously, a song misunderstood by the repetition of its title at the cost of the explicit description of using someone throughout the rest of it. It's a pity, though, that 'Kohoutek' (Fables) seems to sort of slip under the radar as an R.E.M. love song - lost love, simile of a comet that’s lifetimes from reappearing.

The “fire!” repetition in ‘The One I Love’ shows up in, obviously, ‘Fireplace’, and as a startlingly similar  “firehouse” in ‘Oddfellows Local 151’. ‘Fireplace’ also has prominent saxophone, and ‘King of Birds’ starts with dulcimer, and the driving, forceful overtone of the album accommodates each with equal ease.

A few of the songs turn back towards the rural, non-global scale. ‘Lightnin’ Hopkins’ takes in the blues musician and seemingly also death, but sweeps over the landscape too (“flat lands, low lands on the track/shows the water pan the track”), and the steady, insistent drums on this are really striking. ‘Oddfellows Local 151’ has a set of vignettes about winos that were local to Stipe (“behind the firehouse”), managing to compare them to both the Oddfellows fraternal organisation and to unions (‘___ Local 151’). It’s quite jagged, and the plays on words continue (“gathered up his proof”), but there’s a small world contained within it.

'Disturbance at the Heron House' is jangly in a way that has already become rare by this point, and it combines this with a very, very linear narrative in the lyrics. Though the album has some seriously strong deep cuts - 'King of Birds', 'Exhuming McCarthy' and particularly 'Oddfellows Local 151' - it stands out for being the synthesis of the band they had been and the changes that had happened since this style dominated, as well as being a great song on its own.







'Strange' - Document

This cover of Wire’s ‘Strange’ is an album track on Document, and for me, probably the band’s most successful cover. There’s an energy and exuberance in it, and the massive confidence of the song contrasted with switching the lyrics to “Michael’s nervous and the lights are bright” before the bouncy backing vocals come in makes it into a different thing than the moody, steady Wire original.

This is my last post, and though I chose not to spend the week documenting my own relationship with the band, ‘Strange’ is a good prompt to edge into it briefly. As well as a couple of hundred songs that all act like little repositories of memory threatening to spill over, R.E.M. were my introduction to a whole host of really awesome bands and beyond, through covers and interview answers and mentions in the lyrics.

I think everyone who lets music into their head enough when they’re young gets this from a band, and the timing’s critical - I’d have found Wire and Patti Smith through something else, I’d have realised on my own that Richard Thompson was cool and my friend’s dad was actually onto something with the folk stuff, but this was how it ended up happening. Even when Nirvana rivaled them for influence over my early teens, Michael Stipe made friends with him and the death and the zeitgeist show up on Monster, Monster shows up in Douglas Coupland, and things tumble out until I realise how much the band set out the start of my pop cultural landscape.

So. Thanks so much for the support (or patience) this week, I’ve really enjoyed this and hope the rapid pace wasn’t too much. Most of all, thanks to Hendrik for the opportunity and encouragement - I’ve enjoyed the blog from the start and get excited each week as it begins again, and it’s a privilege to have had a turn.

- Lisa Ann Cassidy / handsome young stranger