Is this the year of reunions or what?
The dBs: Falling Off the Sky
"The Wonder of Love"
I am frankly amazed that there hasn't been more buzz about this album. Oh, I'm sure there are internet message boards crackling with arguments about it -- after all, it's the dBs' first in 25 years (30 years if you want the original line-up, which of course you do). In the interim the dBs took on a sort of iconic status, much like their power pop progenitors Big Star, as runners-up for the Most Woefully Underappreciated In Their Time award. And die-hard fans who've been waiting for a reunion for 30 years tend to have very strong preconceived notions about what a reunion would sound like. I speak from experience, as a Kinks fan.
But hey, like a lot of Americans I never listened to the dBs before. Don't ask me why -- in 1978-1982 they played the same gritty New York City clubs I was frequenting. (Hell, for all I know I did see them back then, but they never pierced the haze of my brain.) And despite the hectoring of certain regular readers of this blog, I never listened to Peter Holsapple's and Chris Stamey's solo work, either. Mea culpa.
If nothing else, this gives me a unique advantage. I come to this album with fresh, unbiased ears, and I must say, I like what I hear. I love the crunchy guitars, the infectious pop melodies, the psychedelic pulses of organ, the jangly drumming, the rough-cast wall of sound. It sounds more Southern than I expected -- I didn't realize that the dBs all knew each other pre-NYC, down in Winston-Salem NC -- but you know me, I love that bit of twang.
Naturally the album had to lead off with "That Time Is Gone," which kisses off any notion that this reunion will be a mere rehash. But I'm listening more and more to this surprisingly jazzy Holsapple-penned track:
Instead of young-man angst, here's a loose-limbed anthem to relationships that work. Not that it's all smooth going -- "I didn't have to be the one to explain, but time and again I do," he points out, and later he puzzles, "It isn't rocket surgery, it's not as hard as you make it sound." (Love that rocket surgery line, conflating the two cliches, rocket science and brain surgery.)
But the loping rhythms of this song suggest that he's rolling with the punches, willing to accommodate when necessary. The line he keeps returning to is the heart of it all: "I only try to show the wonder of love, oooh, the wonder of love." Even that refrain is mutable, varying, willing to syncopate and change lyrics from verse to verse. Whatever fits.
He's like a preacher without a pulpit, standing on a street corner, cheerfully promoting his gospel. Organ and horns conspire to add some jazzier elements, but at heart it's just a good-old-boy ramble. You can almost see him scratch his head, puzzling, "Sometimes I wonder if the wonder of love is ever enough, is always too much / And then I figure that it all levels out, / Homeostasis, soft to the touch." (Enter this song in the dictionary of Odd Words to Use In a Rock Song.) You'd never get that sort of philosophical shrug from a band of youngsters. It's Music for Grown-Ups, which doesn't mean it still doesn't rock.
Think about the bloated latter-day R.E.M. -- another Southern band born of this same era -- trying to keep it going past their sell-by date, finally calling it quits. Maybe it was a good thing that the dBs broke up so early, before they could be trapped in their own fame. Getting back together so many years down the road seems like a joyful and natural thing, judging from the copasetic energy of Falling Off the Sky.
I love reunions that work.