Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The dB's

  • Stands for Decibels [I.R.S., 1981] A-
  • Repercussion [Albion, 1982] B+
  • Like This [Bearsville, 1984] A-
  • The Sound of Music [I.R.S., 1987] B
  • Falling Off the Sky [Bar/None, 2012] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Stands for Decibels [I.R.S., 1981]
En Why's own Southern Anglophiles keep their potential for Beatley let-loose and Box Topsy get-down in such close check that their compulsive studiocraft radiates a mad joy all its own. This is pop at its tensest--the precise harmonies, broken rhythms, and Byrdsy zoom effects are drawn so tight they make the expertly rendered romantic ups and downs of the songs sound intense and earned. A-

Repercussion [Albion, 1982]
A man of simple tastes, I'm thrown into a tizzy when I find myself uninterested in playing an album comprising twelve tunes I can hum after a dozen plays. I think it's because they're so prepossessing they short-circuit my simple aesthetic sense. I was thrown off for weeks, to take one example, by the soul horns that open the lead cut. They sounded fussy. Soul horns. On a pop record. Overreaching. B+

Like This [Bearsville, 1984]
This is a different, less ambitious band without Chris Stamey, whose taste for the uncanny is missed when the lyrics wind down into the enigmatic (nice word for vague, unrealized, etc.) stuff on side two. But Chris Butler's eight-cylinder production suits the straightforward thrust of Peter Holsapple's young-adult love songs, and melodies have never been their problem. A piece of Inspirational Verse, then: "I can understand / Why you want a better man / But why do you wanna make him out of me?" And one request: How about a whole album that kicks like "A Spy in the House of Love"? A-

The Sound of Music [I.R.S., 1987]
Yeah it rocks, but when a pop group leaves it at that they're no better than their latest song, and when their sole remaining songwriter is still dissecting serial monogamy as he says bye to thirty, chances are his latest song doesn't even interest him all that much. With Chris Stamey they really had a sound. And with Chris Butler they really had a groove. B

Falling Off the Sky [Bar/None, 2012]
Solo or in tandem, neither the easygoing Peter Holsapple nor the lapidary Chris Stamey has put his hand to an album nearly as good as drummer Will Rigby's 2002 Paradoxaholic since Reagan was president. They've sounded stiff, tired, twee. But although it's nice to have Rigby's drive (and his hickster kissoff ditty) dirtying up this reunion, motor problems weren't what sunk H&S's 2009 Here and Now with Jon Wurster in the drum chair. And in 2012, it's like H&S never went away. The difference could be parallel life changes or the luck of the songwriting draw or even what never seems to work in the reunion hustle, pride in the band brand. But it's unmistakable. As ever, Holsapple's songs have more life than Stamey's, with the lead "That Time Is Gone" a song about finality a 25-year-old could get behind that's as rousing as anything in their book. But dreamy Stamey has just as much right to a premonitions-of-death title closer a 15-year-old could get behind. A-