Auctioneer (Another Engine)
March 30, 2007
“Auctioneer (Another Engine)” is the second of two songs on Fables of the Reconstruction with a clear railroad theme, and though its words tie into the general lyrical themes of the album, I get the sense that Michael Stipe was simply reinforcing an impression that the music would have suggested either way. Maybe I’ve spent entirely too much time on and around trains in my lifetime, but I’m fairly certain that I’d associate the sound of this with dilapidated tracks and zooming freights regardless of what he was singing.
Among early R.E.M. compositions, “Auctioneer” is the most indebted to the claustrophobic, uptight sound of British post-punk, though that style is filtered through the rather specific sensibility of Peter Buck. Though Bill Berry’s driving percussion is crucial to the character of the piece, the song’s most memorable features come courtesy of Buck — the creepy arpeggiated tangle of notes on the chorus, and the fiery lead figure that implies breakneck speed without actually being all that fast.