precisely what they might be about. Too much close scrutiny trying to comprehend singer Michael Stipe's often hazy diction and imposing an interpretive framework upon the few lyrics that can be sussed out is a self-defeating and frustrating exercise, as a day's worth of listen-guess-replay-guess-again made clear to me. Better to just accept Stipe's dusky voice as an extraordinarily evocative instrument, perhaps the lead instrument in this band, since there are no soloists per se.
Though attempts at analysis will probably be futile, some stray fragment of a lyric "It's a Man Ray kind of sky" or "When you greet a stranger/Look at her hands" might set off all sorts of intellectual resonances. Because R.E.M. suggests instead of spells out, leaving you to guess at what tantalizing secrets they're keeping, they have amassed a substantial following among the kind of discriminating fans who spurn contemporary-hit radio and Music Television.
Their latest record finds R.E.M. taking a few giant steps away from the format of the previous three, which were all cut in North Carolina with producers Mitch Easter and Don Dixon. Fables of the Reconstruction was made in England with Joe Boyd, the producer and creative midwife of some of the most stirring British folk records of the past few decades, by artists like Fairport Convention, Nick Drake and Richard and Linda Thompson. R.E.M.'s liaison with Boyd makes perfect sense. Rural England and the rural South the band members are all Georgians share a deep tradition of myth and mystery that's nurtured in the bond between man and land.
R.E.M. draws upon the more haunting aspects of the South for inspiration and subject matter. Though they never deal with history head-on, the title of their album betrays an interest in history or, more exactly, the effect of a historical event in shaping the peculiar culture of their region. Fables is not a concept album, but there is a contextual frame here more so than on R.E.M.'s other records. Perhaps making this album in another country gave them the distance to see their own more clearly.
Besides being a kind of cultural overview, Fables of the Reconstruction unfolds as a series of observations sequenced to suggest a dialogue between extremes: tension and languor, momentum and inertia, the natural and the surreal, accessibility and impenetrability. T