As is (too) often the way with genuine ‘precursor’ music, there was a massive disparity between the commercial and critical acclaim that this band/album received. As such The dB’s had to content themselves with merely being recognized as one of the definitive and most brazen pioneers of American jangle pop.
In fact, despite having a UK release in 1981, it was only in 1989 that this album was released in their native US, by which time R.E.M had marched with unrelentless vigour down one of the dual jangle pop paths that the dB’s had helped to create.
It is perhaps this ‘polar opposite’, somewhat fragmented dual path nature of this release that meant it was never going to garner the mass appeal of an American public who were busy enjoying the consistent jangled riffs and hooks that the best of College Rock was providing them.
For The dB’s had no ‘middle road’, no ‘in between’ or ‘safe ground’. It was always exactly ‘this’ or exactly ‘that’. Within the dual songwriting and vocal duties the ‘this’ was provided by Peter Holsapple. His influence is seen as he teeters at the precipice of where Big Star left off, before deliberately falling off the edge, into a more muscular power-pop sound, in tracks such as Bad Reputation, Big Brown Eyes, Moving in Your Sleep and the album’s true stand out and opener, Black and White (see below).
Within the context of the album the Holsapple’s influence provides the ‘catchy as hell’ moments, although the hooks still have a tendency to grumble along with a sense of sour rather than joining the sweet of the commercially acceptable R.E.M / Miracle Legion / Lets Active types, who were flourishing within the era.
That perhaps, would not have mattered too much from a commercial perspective if Chris Stamey had not stamped his influence in equal measures all over the aural landscape of the album. When he got involved things became gloriously ‘alternative’ infusing the sort of weird, experimental psych leanings that had drawn him to previously perform with Richard Lloyd / Television.
However, as/was/has always been the case with everything the dB’s as a collective released, there was always that inimitable sense of ‘catchy’ that held the two fragmented styles of music together as a definitive unified whole. As such brilliant Stamey tracks like Dynamite and The Fight, make unlikely, but ultimately essential, whining and weird bedfellows to the contrasting sweetness of all things Holsapple.
Of course, The dB’s increasingly found the acclaim they deserved many years later, when people started trying to to make sense of the College Rock scene and began to dig out the more obtuse nuggets like Pylon and Guadacanal Diary, that had hitherto been swallowed up in all things ‘pretty’ being played on College Radio.
This is arguably the best American jangle pop album of the early 80’s from a band that never took a backwards, or even sideways step, from their musical beliefs to chase the dollar.
Label Links: Discogs