Falling Off the Sky is the first album in over 30 years from the original dB’s lineup and marks the re-unification of the Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple songwriting team. Their initial partnership resulted in Stands for Decibels and Repercussions, a pair of records definitive of early ‘80s power-pop. Idiosyncratic songwriters in their own right, Stamey pulled from the off-kilter pop sensibilities of Alex Chilton, while Holsapple foiled that experimentalism with catchy ditties like “Bad Reputation”. This gave sugar-and-spice balance to their LPs, and when Stamey left the group in 1983 to start a solo career, The dB’s effectively became a different band.
That’s why Falling Off the Sky is intriguing. Stamey and Holsapple are back together, bouncing songs off of one another like it’s ’81. That said, opening track “That Time Is Gone” reminds us that 30-plus years have passed, and these dB’s are all grown up. Holsapple’s lyrics cut with a poignant edge: “There’s no going back/ All those times are finished with and done/ You better wake up, wake up, wake up/ That time is gone.” It comes off as a song not penned for this reunion, but about it.
It’s instinctive to compare Holsapple’s tunes with Stamey’s (as is the case with any two-man team); however, it’s more appropriate to observe how the duo’s compositions work in tandem. The juxtaposed styles prevalent on Stands for Decibels give way to a unified flow on Falling Off the Sky, but that juxtaposition was part of what made those original albums so entertaining. Here, Stamey trades his jittery pop for verse-chorus-verse cookie cutters like “Before We Were Born” and the painfully sappy “Far Away and Long Ago”. Only “Collide-oOo-Scope” touts the shifty tempos Stamey’s known for. His guitar purrs and jangles beneath more self-reflexive lyrics: “Walking backward just to cover our tracks.”
Falling Off the Sky lacks the fiery crackle of The dB’s previous output. But—as the first track implies—those times are gone, and one can’t expect The dB’s of old in 2012. Although Stamey and Holsapple seem aware of their age and that they might be getting too old for this sort of thing, power-pop thrives on youthful exuberance. Justifiably lacking that exuberance, Falling Off the Sky is tame and predictable.
Essential Tracks: “That Time Is Gone” and “Collide-oOo-Scope”