From the first three notes that make up the odd riff on "Feeling Gravity's Pull," Fables of the Reconstruction is probably R.E.M.'s weirdest, darkest, and most challenging album. As such, it's easily dismissed. Shame, that: the jittery "Can't Get There from Here," the prickly "Life and How To Live It," and the fragile "Good Advices" all stand up to anything else R.E.M. have done.
Fables also served, in a way, as a rough draft for the subsequent Lifes Rich Pageant and Document — both of which more confidently explored the band's dark side while continuing to mine Fables' overt post-punk influence. It's as if R.E.M. needed to try these moves out first before they could feel comfortable with them. The difficulty of the album's recording sessions does come through in Peter Buck's swampy guitar sound and Michael Stipe's drowsier-than-usual vocals, but it's not enough to derail the songs.
The hope would be that the demos on this reissue, which were recorded in R.E.M.'s home town of Athens, would showcase the band in better spirits, but they still don't sound terribly excited about the material. Which just makes the quality of the finished product all the more amazing.