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If there was any doubt that The dB's have any use for being considered through the haze of memory, or limited to the misty fondness from fans who remember them from the early 80s, the blast that opens their new album Falling Off the Sky, a song called "That Time Is Gone," could not be more explicit. Group leaders Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey, along with drummer Will Rigby and bassist Gene Holder, are taking back their sound after 30 years, sprucing it up and re-exploding it for the days we live in now.
"Write Back" is a rare dB's song from Will Rigby, and at first you think the detail that's going to date his tale of romantic epistolary correspondence is the notion of "writing a letter." But Rigby slyly refers to having his "email cached," and still manages to retain the nice, slight pun of "writing back" and coming "right back" built into that lovely piece of jangling pop. The dB's, if they can be said to have a uniting theme in their music over the years, return again and again to the tricks lovers play on each other, the vehement desire for truth and earnestness instead of coyness or the tiresome playing hard to get. You can hear it ring out on Chris Stamey's "Send Me Something Real."
As if composing an answer record to his comrade, Peter Holsapple immediately follows up that song with an even sharper sentiment on "World To Cry." As the guitars careen and crash into the drums, the lyric excoriates a woman whom the narrator thinks trades too often on lies and tears to get her way. "You think you're the one who taught the world to cry," he sings sneerily. "Cry cry cry till you're misunderstood," he jeers, a nice turn of phrase about the way we — men and women — use a defensive emotionalism to deflect the substance of what's being claimed, or asserted to deceive.
The voices of Holsapple and Stamey sound very strong; they've aged in a way that retains the youthful, adenoidal plaintiveness that gives airy power-pop some poignance. At the same time, these are older men whose sense of pride in craft, of cranking it out with skill, remains, if anything, even more proud. They're no longer living in a post-Beatles world in which a four-piece band is the essence of pop music. That time is gone, as they say at the very start of the album, and they spend the rest of the album proving it.