In terms of the grand musical historiography, a dB’s resurgence is around par with that Feelies reunion in terms of pure necessity. A mostly forgotten group of oddball innovators with two albums of slick, power-pop firepower breathlessly adored in record-clerk circles—it felt like a flashbang even at their prime. They rolled loose and liquid out of North Carolina, specializing in indelible, insect-reflex guitar hooks out of the forever-frantic Peter Holsapple. Candy-coated jams like “Black and White” still reverberate, quite possibly because they were the finest examples of pop genius that their Southeastern beatnik crew had to offer. R.E.M. ain’t got nothing on The dB’s, at least for a couple of years—maybe that’s why they seemed forever destined to be limited in record grooves, not reunions. That magic just seemed so erstwhile.
R.E.M. broke up, Alex Chilton is dead, and Television is little more than a relic. So hats off to The dB’s for mustering the strength for a comeback, especially considering how all that wonderful power-pop, once impossibly fresh-faced, is now irrevocably in the past. The first song on Falling Off The Sky is a docile jangle called “That Time Is Gone;” maybe it’s coincidence, but it seems awfully poetic. The most interesting thing about The dB’s beguiling fifth studio album is simply its existence, a curious modern artifact with a beautiful heart and a tenacious soul. As ordinary as the music might be, you can’t question its esteem.
Their crackle and vigor has long been evaporated; in 2012 The dB’s are left playing a lax approximation of the divine pop-rock that used to be second nature. These are deliberate songs, weighed down with a lot of cliché. “Surprise, surprise, I didn’t see it in your eyes” waxes Holsapple on the soggy “Write Back,” all pinched, nervy and graceless. “The Wonder of Love” dashes in royal horns and slathered organ pings to a remarkably neutralized end. “World to Cry” is so stagnantly spiteful I actually found myself hoping it wasn’t written this century. These aren’t exactly tunes with a lot of staying power; most of them can barely escape the walls. And in some ways, that’s about what we should expect. The dB’s reenter our atmosphere looking like an average rock band, bankrolling a few colorless love songs with their heads held high.
It’s not even all bad though. “Before We Were Born’s” watery charm is engaged, subtle and calmly abstruse, quite possibly the closest Falling Off the Sky gets to its inherited legacy. Those moments are wonderful and scarce, and completely justify The dB’s persistence. They made a wholesome record without embarrassing themselves or their fans. That in itself is a resounding triumph, so more power to them.