If there’s one album that I can automatically point to/at which helped me – helped to shape me as a songwriter and start to hone my craft by way of really structuring songs and using interesting lyrical subject matter within the framework of a “pop” song, it’s The dB’s 1982 masterpiece, Repercussion. I bought it when it came out (in the U.S., it was sold with a cassette version in a tin can) and I have referred back to and listened to that album endlessly in the 32 years since. Not meaning to disparage anyone or create any kind of controversy, I always saw The dB’s, not R.E.M., as the leaders of the new American vanguard – or if you want to make this easy, the ones who would carry the torch that was extinguished by the demise of Big Star…
I don’t think it’s necessary to go into a lengthy history of The dB’s – their website is a perfect place to have all questions answered and all colors filled in – so I’ll stick to this album. And why I think this qualifies as a “perfect” album. My criteria is always fairly simple – no filler, strong tracks, memorable songs start to finish – and if I (for argument’s sake) find one or two songs to be merely “good” and not “great”, then that’s pretty perfect. An album has to sound good; have something interesting about it, hang together well. And Repercussion has it in spades. One of the most important and vital elements to this album is the perfect balance between the songwriting tandem of Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple. Add that amazing rhythm section of Gene Holder on uber-bass and wunderdrummer Will Rigby and the chemistry is perfect. While The dB’s may have started off as Chris Stamey’s band (Mr. Holsapple joined them after the debut single “I Thought You Wanted To Know”/”If And When” and credited to “Chris Stamey and The dB’s”), it was on Repercussion that Holsapple delivered what would become two of the most beloved and well-known songs in The dB’s canon – the stunning aural gold of “Neverland” and the bizarre and hilarious-yet-I-shouldn’t-laugh “Amplifier”. “Neverland”‘s glorious riff, breakneck pace and masterful vocals leave you breathless on first listen and never able to get this song out of your head. “Amplifier”, which I always thought was a spoof honky-tonk kind of thing, has a jolly country feel while singing the tragic tale of Danny, who committed suicide after his girl dumps him, takes everything but leaves his guitar amplifier. A sad topic but done with such tongue-in-cheek mastery, it’s hard to not see the dark humor in this.
My version of Repercussion (differences in track order between the American and European editions) opens with the shiver-inducing “Happenstance” – one of Chris Stamey’s most perfectly realized pieces. Taut, tense, almost claustrophobic; it shifts from soft on the verses to rave-up on the choruses and explodes from quiet to manic on the middle 8. This is art in the recorded form – period. Peter Holsapple’s “We Were Happy There” is, lyrically, a sci-fi love song that has such feeling, you can’t help but love this from first listen. “Living A Lie” has brassy Memphis-style horns and hooks you hard. Stamey’s “From A Window To A Screen” is simply one of the most heartbreakingly gorgeous things I’ve ever heard – soft, painful, sad, longing; a perfect balance of sound and an on-the-one guitar solo – as well as spot-on harmonies. And those lyrics – “Wine in plastic cups/listening to the wind/I will tell you everything/where do I begin?…” – as vivid as one can imagine; you feel it and see it – you’re there. “Ask For Jill” and “Amplifier” round out side one – all can’t-miss tracks.
Turn the album over and it’s just as meaty – “Neverland” starts it off with its unforgettable riff, rhythm and never-to-be-forgotten lyrics that you’ll find yourself singing as the years go by. “Storm Warning” has a dynamic tension to it and a heavier feel; “Ups And Downs” is another one of Chris Stamey’s brilliantly sparkling pop offerings – quirky and totally melodic. “Nothing Is Wrong” is as close to a Big Star-type track and for me, a blueprint – I freely admit this track informed and influenced my own songwriting – it’s a beautiful, slow, emotionally colored number and a highlight. “In Spain” rocks fast and furiously and “I Feel Good (Today)” is Stamey’s other artistic masterpiece. Starts slow – stops – turns poppy and you’re left having experienced one of the finest albums to ever be released by any American band – not just in the early ’80’s but across the generations.
Repercussion is essential listening. It is necessary. It is pure and magnificent. It is a triumph. Find it; listen to it and absorb it.