Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

R.E.M.: Fables of the Reconstruction [I.R.S., 1985]
If you had any doubts, new producer Joe Boyd clinches it: their formal frame of reference is folk-rock, nothing less, and nothing more. Because they're Southerners, they've always defeated folk-rock's crippling stasis: they have a good beat, and you can boogie to them. But as formalists they valorize the past by definition, and if their latest title means anything it's that they're slipping inexorably into the vague comforts of regret, mythos, and nostalgia. Trading energy for ever richer textures, their impressionism sacrifices its paradoxical edginess: it's doleful, slower, solidly grounded but harder to boogie to nevertheless. B+