Fables of the Reconstruction

Fables of the Reconstruction, also known as Reconstruction of the Fables, is the third studio album by American alternative rock band R.E.M., released on I.R.S. Records on June 10, 1985. The Joe Boyd-produced album was the first recorded by the group outside the United States. It is a concept album with Southern Gothic themes and characters.

Fables of the Reconstruction
Studio album by
ReleasedJune 10, 1985 (1985-06-10)
RecordedFebruary–March 1985
StudioLivingston, London, United Kingdom
ProducerJoe Boyd
R.E.M. chronology
Fables of the Reconstruction
Lifes Rich Pageant
Singles from Fables of the Reconstruction
  1. "Cant Get There from Here"
    Released: June 1985
  2. "Driver 8"
    Released: September 1985
  3. "Wendell Gee"
    Released: September 1985
Professional ratings
Review scores
The A.V. ClubA[4]
Chicago Tribune[5]
Entertainment WeeklyB−[6]
Rolling Stone[9]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide[10]
The Village VoiceB+[12]


Despite the growing audience and critical acclaim experienced by the band after its first two albums, Murmur and Reckoning, R.E.M. decided to make noticeable changes to its style of music and recording habits, including a change in producer to Joe Boyd and in recording location to London, England. Boyd was best known for his work with modern English folk musicians, including such acts as Fairport Convention and Nick Drake.

It was still a conceptual record by R.E.M. standards: lyrically, the album explores the mythology and landscape of the South, and the title and chorus of "Cant Get There from Here", the album's first single (intentionally misspelled, like most contractions and possessives in R.E.M. titles), is a rural American colloquialism sometimes used in response to a request by travelers for difficult directions (the video for the song received airplay on MTV).

Music and lyrical themes

This 1895 ad for Columbia Bicycle was used extensively on tourbooks and T-shirts of the period.

The opening song, "Feeling Gravitys Pull" (sic), describes falling asleep while reading; Michael Stipe's lyrics also reference surrealist photographer Man Ray, setting the tone for the album. The song was a musical departure for the band, making use of a dark, chromatic guitar figure by Peter Buck, and a string quartet, while R.E.M.'s previous albums had opened with rhythmic, "jangly" rock songs.

"Maps and Legends" fits the earlier sound and features distinct harmony vocals by bassist Mike Mills, singing different lyrics from Stipe. The song is dedicated to the Reverend Howard Finster, a noted outsider artist whom the band considered to be "a man of vision and feeling—a fine example to all" (Finster created the album sleeve for R.E.M.'s Reckoning the previous year).

"Driver 8" describes the scenery surrounding railroad tracks in somewhat abstract terms. Trains are a frequent motif in rural American music, suggesting the freedom and promise of an escape from one's home environment. Driven by a distinctive guitar riff, "Driver 8" was one of the songs on the album to receive college radio play, and the record company also authorized a music video.

Beginning with a soft introduction, "Life and How to Live It" charged through another atmospheric, folk rock arrangement and referenced storytelling. Without mentioning him by name, the song was about Athens, Georgia, author Brivs Mekis, as alluded to in the live performance on the And I Feel Fine... bonus disc. (Mekis wrote a book titled Life: How to Live, and had it printed, only to have all existing copies of it stacked in his closet.)[13]

Much of the band's songwriting material in this era also came from the members' own experiences traveling through the country in near-constant tours over the previous several years, as well as an increasing sense of political activism which would find expression on subsequent albums Lifes Rich Pageant and Document. Stipe later said[citation needed] that his previous lyrics never really had any literal meanings, and that by this time he had begun to write lyrics that told stories.

The song "Green Grow the Rushes" is a prime example, which contains the line "the amber waves of gain", is thought (by biographer Marcus Gray) to be about migrant farm laborers and also alludes to the folk song "Green Grow the Rushes, O". Natalie Merchant is quoted as saying: "I was doing a lot of research about the genocide against the native American Indians, and we made a pact that we'd both write songs about their plight." Her song, "Among the Americans", appeared on the 1985 10,000 Maniacs album The Wishing Chair.[14]

"Kohoutek" (misspelled as "Kahoetek" in the album's liner notes) referenced the comet Kohoutek, and is perhaps one of the earliest R.E.M. songs about a romantic relationship, using the comet as a simile for a lover: "like Kohoutek, you were gone."

The song "Auctioneer (Another Engine)" deviated from the typical R.E.M. sound of the time, with jagged guitar riffs and more references to old rural ways of life.

The plaintive "Good Advices" contains the following Stipe lyric that has been quoted in musical and literary contexts: "When you meet a stranger, look at his shoes / keep your money in your shoes."

A celebration of an eccentric individual is the subject of "Old Man Kensey" (which has lyrics by Stipe's friend Jeremy Ayers) and closing track "Wendell Gee". The latter, a ballad with piano and more harmonies from Berry and Mills, was the album's third and final single in the UK only, although it made no commercial impression there.

Reviewer Matthew Perpetua describes the album's lyrics as particularly "preoccupied with the behavior of mysterious older men"[15] and "imagining the inner lives of outsiders and recluses" with "a sound that evokes images of railroads, small towns, eccentric locals, oppressive humidity, and a vague sense of time slowing to a crawl".[7]


Upon release, Fables of the Reconstruction reached #28 in the United States (going gold in 1991) and was the band's best showing yet in the UK, peaking at No. 35. Recorded during a period of internal strife—largely due to the R.E.M. members' homesickness and an unpleasant London winter—the band's unenthusiastic view of the album has been public for years, and is often reflected among fans and the press. Drummer Bill Berry was quoted in the early 1990s as saying that Fables of the Reconstruction "sucked". Guitarist Peter Buck dismissed single "Driver 8" saying, "I can write that kind of stuff in my sleep."[16] Frontman Michael Stipe once shared the opinion, but later said that he considers it to be the strongest collection of songs among their 1980s albums,[16] telling producer Joe Boyd that he had grown to love the album.

Peter Buck, in the liner notes of the 25th Anniversary Deluxe edition, said, "Over the years, a certain misapprehension about Fables of the Reconstruction has built up. For some reason, people have the impression that the members of R.E.M. don't like the record. Nothing could be further from the truth. [...] It's a personal favorite, and I'm really proud of how strange it is. Nobody but R.E.M. could have made that record."[17]

Fables was often characterized by a slow tempo and an intentionally murky sound, in contrast with the more upbeat and jangly (if equally abstract) sound of earlier R.E.M. material. Nevertheless, the focus on American folk instruments such as the banjo in "Wendell Gee" and a few additional orchestrations (string instruments in "Feeling Gravitys Pull" and honking brass in "Cant Get There from Here") began the band's route toward the layered, acoustic-based sound they adopted for their popular breakthrough in the late 1980s and early 1990s with albums such as Document, Green, Out of Time and Automatic for the People.

Track listing

All songs written by Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe except where noted.

Side one – "A Side"

  1. "Feeling Gravitys Pull" – 4:48
  2. "Maps and Legends" – 3:10
  3. "Driver 8" – 3:23
  4. "Life and How to Live It" – 4:06
  5. "Old Man Kensey" (Jeremy Ayers, Berry, Buck, Mills, and Stipe) – 4:08

Side two – "Another Side"

  1. "Cant Get There from Here" – 3:39
  2. "Green Grow the Rushes" – 3:46
  3. "Kohoutek" – 3:18
  4. "Auctioneer (Another Engine)" – 2:44
  5. "Good Advices" – 3:30
  6. "Wendell Gee" – 3:01

1992 IRS Vintage Years reissue bonus tracks

  1. "Crazy" (Randy Bewley, Vanessa Briscoe, Curtis Crowe, Michael Lachowski)
  2. B-side of "Driver 8" 7" single
  3. "Burning Hell"
  4. "Bandwagon" (Berry, Buck, Mills, Lynda Stipe, Stipe)
  5. "Driver 8" (Live)
  6. "Maps and Legends" (Live)

2010 25th Anniversary Edition reissue bonus tracks (The Athens Demos)

  1. "Auctioneer (Another Engine)" – 2:52
  2. "Bandwagon" (Berry, Buck, Mills, Lynda Stipe, and Michael Stipe) – 2:24
  3. "Cant Get There from Here" – 3:41
  4. "Driver 8" – 3:31
  5. "Feeling Gravitys Pull" – 4:36
  6. "Good Advices" – 3:31
  7. "Green Grow the Rushes" – 3:47
  8. "Hyena" – 2:53
  9. "Kohoutek" – 3:26
  10. "Life and How to Live It" – 4:10
  11. "Maps and Legends" – 3:12
  12. "Old Man Kensey" (Ayers, Berry, Buck, Mills, and Stipe) – 4:07
  13. "Throw Those Trolls Away" – 3:10
  14. "Wendell Gee" – 3:07

On the vinyl and cassette releases, side one was labeled "A side" and side two "Another side". The "A side" label bore the title Fables of the Reconstruction, while "Another side" bore the title Reconstruction of the Fables. The front cover of all releases shows the words "Fables of the", while the back cover reads "Reconstruction of the". The CD label has the title simply as "Fables of the Reconstruction", while both spines are labeled "Reconstruction of the Fables". The ambiguous title makes possible reference to both the Reconstruction era of the United States and the literary process of deconstruction.

The liner notes mention a song titled "When I Was Young" in the track listing, but it does not appear on the album. That song was played live several times during the 1985 "Preconstruction" US college tour (a tour that took place before the release of the album), but it was quickly dropped. It was reworked into "I Believe", which was released on the following album Lifes Rich Pageant.

A demo version of "When I Was Young" appears as "Throw Those Trolls Away" on the 25th Anniversary Edition of Fables, released July 13, 2010; the CD-Text information on the disc, however, still identifies the song's title as "When I Was Young".[18]



  • Bill Berry – drums, backing vocals (credited as "WT Berry – Best Boy")
  • Peter Buck – guitar, banjo, harmonica (credited as "PL Buck – Ministry of Music")
  • Mike Mills – bass guitar, backing vocals, piano (credited as "ME Mills – Consolate Mediator")
  • Michael Stipe – lead vocals (credited as "JM Stipe – Gaffer Interpreter")

Additional musicians

  • David Bitelli – tenor saxophone and baritone saxophone on "Cant Get There from Here"
  • Camilla Brunt – violin on "Feeling Gravitys Pull"
  • Jim Dvorak – trumpet on "Cant Get There from Here"
  • Philippa Ibbotson – violin on "Feeling Gravitys Pull"
  • David Newby – cello on "Feeling Gravitys Pull"
  • Pete Thomas – tenor saxophone on "Cant Get There from Here"


  • Joe Boyd – production
  • Berry Clempson – audio engineering
  • Tony Harris – engineering
  • M. K. Johnston – photography and art

Chart performance


Year Chart Position
1985 US Billboard 200 28 [19]
1985 UK Albums Chart 35 [20]


Year Song Chart Position
1985 "Cant Get There from Here" Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks 14 [21]
1985 "Driver 8" Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks 22 [21]


Organization Level Date
RIAA – United States Gold June 24, 1991 [22]

Release history

Region Date Label Format Catalog
United Kingdom June 10, 1985 I.R.S. vinyl LP MIRF1003
United States June 11, 1985 I.R.S. LP IRS-5592
cassette tape IRSC-5592
compact disc IRSD-5592
Greece 1985 Illegal LP 26525
Australia 1985 I.R.S./Epic LP ELPS 4495
The Netherlands 1985 I.R.S. LP 26525
Worldwide 1990 MCA Compact Disc 5592
I.R.S. cassette tape IRSC-5592
The Netherlands August 6, 1992 EMI Compact Disc 7 13160 2 9†
United Kingdom 1992 Simply Vinyl 180-gram vinyl LP SVLP151
Worldwide 1998 Capitol Compact Disc 93479
Europe 1998 EMI Compact Disc 13160†
Worldwide 1999 I.R.S. Compact Disc 19016
United States 1999 Simply Vinyl LP 0000151
Europe 2000 I.R.S. Compact Disc 7131602†
United States July 23, 2010 I.R.S. Compact Disc 509996 46071 22††


  • † I.R.S. Vintage Years edition, with bonus tracks
  • †† 25th Anniversary edition, with bonus disc


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  2. Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Fables of the Reconstruction – R.E.M." AllMusic. Retrieved August 26, 2012.
  3. "R.E.M. Disc Two: Fables of the Reconstruction". KCRW. July 5, 2010. Retrieved February 22, 2020.
  4. Gordon, Scott (July 13, 2010). "R.E.M.: Fables Of The Reconstruction". The A.V. Club. Retrieved August 31, 2015.
  5. Kot, Greg (March 24, 1991). "Traveling Through The Years With R.E.M." Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 2, 2015.
  6. Browne, David (March 22, 1991). "An R.E.M. discography". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved August 30, 2015.
  7. Perpetua, Matthew (July 14, 2010). "R.E.M.: Fables of the Reconstruction [Deluxe Edition]". Pitchfork. Retrieved August 26, 2012.
  8. "R.E.M.: Fables of the Reconstruction". Q (290). September 2010.
  9. Puterbaugh, Parke (June 20, 1985). "Fables of the Reconstruction". Rolling Stone. Retrieved August 26, 2012.
  10. Nawrocki, Tom (2004). "R.E.M.". In Brackett, Nathan; Hoard, Christian (eds.). The New Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th ed.). Simon & Schuster. pp. 685–87. ISBN 0-7432-0169-8.
  11. "R.E.M.: Fables of the Reconstruction". Uncut (160): 107. September 2010.
  12. Christgau, Robert (June 25, 1985). "Christgau's Consumer Guide". The Village Voice. Retrieved August 31, 2015.
  13. Life and How to Live It at Songfacts.com
  14. McNair, James. "How We Met: Michael Stipe and Natalie Merchant". The Independent. Retrieved 28 November 2016.
  15. Perpetua, Matthew. "Maps And Legends". Pop Songs 07-08. Retrieved 3 June 2021.
  16. Giles, Jeff (June 27, 1991). "R.E.M.: Number One With an Attitude". Rolling Stone. Wenner Media. Retrieved September 13, 2017.
  17. Fables of the Reconstruction 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition, liner notes, p. 5, 2010.
  18. CD-Text data included on disc 2 of the 25th Anniversary Edition of the album.
  19. R.E.M. | AllMusic
  20. 1985-06-29 Top 40 Official Album Charts UK Archive | Official Charts
  21. R.E.M. | AllMusic
  22. RIAA – Recording Industry Association of America