Saturday, December 08, 2012

Unexpected albums of the year

"Here Before", by The Feelies.
"Falling Off The Sky", by The dB's.

(Disclaimer: okay, Discogs tells me that "Here Before" came out in 2011, so I must have been absorbing it for longer than I thought. (That's what happens when you get old.) Which kind of makes the entire concept behind this blog post redundant. And makes me feel like a bit of a dick. I could have scrapped it, I suppose, but why let temporal inaccuracy get in the way of a good story? Plus the dB's record came out in 2012. Definitely.)

I can't imagine either of these albums appearing on anybody's end-of-year best-of list. They are, in many ways, records made by ageing hipsters for ageing hipsters. But the fact that they exist is itself a remarkable thing, and the fact that they are both as good as they are is more than anybody could have expected.

For both of these bands, their heyday, if they ever had one, was in the early to middle 1980s. Neither of them outlived their usefulness, thus (perhaps) maintaining both their dignity and their legacy. Instead, they went off and did other things. Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple (dB's mainstays) have worked together on and off in the years since, and the Feelies have done a couple of low-key reunion tours, but I can't imagine that anybody would have expected either band to reconvene for an album of new material, let alone both of them doing so at more or less the same time. (Happy days!)

Yes, they are not alone in this kind of second (or third) act. Mission of Burma have now put out more albums post-reformation than they did in the glory days, and Wire continue to fight the good fight when many others would have taken a well deserved final bow.

On the other hand, if either of these groups had continued to work their own furrows year in and year out, like Sonic Youth, or REM, or U2 (or even The Rolling Stones), neither of these albums would probably have warranted more than a passing nod.

So, is staying out of the game for 20 years a good career move? An interesting question, but one we won't be dwelling on here. The point we want to make is simply that these are two thoroughly decent, well crafted collections of songs by musicians who know each other instinctively, and that slip very comfortably alongside each band's existing catalogue, but that make no pretense towards having been made by the people that they were 20 years ago. Thus, the range of the vocals has dropped, the tempos have slowed, there are more acoustic guitars, the lyrics are reflective, perhaps tending towards the melancholy (tho' in no way being a downer), and, in the case of The dB's, no longer sound like they are being belted out by kids with their whole lives ahead of them. (The Feelies never sounded like that.) But The Feelies are still The Feelies and The dB's are still The dB's. What they are both saying, in other words, is: "This is who we are now".

It makes me very happy to be able to write about these records. If you have a dad who was too young for The Beatles and too old for, I don't know, gangsta rap, black metal and mnml techno, who tells dad jokes but doesn't wear dad jeans, one of these records might just put a smile on his face on Christmas morning.