Since the beginning of 2000 some form of Dr. Dog has been out there, living it up, and making music. It’s strange, but through it all, the band have managed to always sound like they did in the onset of their fame, yet, slight touches influence each record, giving each album a diverse position within the band’s catalogue. Shame Shame, the band’s latest, is indeed, much like the last few, built on classic rock, like The Band, and fresh fun.
We begin our new journey with the band by listening to “Stranger.” It’s an odd choice for an opening piece, as there’s no definitive album statement here; it seems more like a carry over from the last record, Fate. You probably won’t hate this song, but it just encourages the idea that the band have replaced some of their tenacity with slick production. But, “Shadow People” changes the album for the better. Vocals come off like a young Wayne Coyne (this is the first notice of this for me), and gentle strumming is accompanied by piano. As the song furthers itself, you’re introduced to group harmonies, always one of the band’s specialties, along with a bit of a pick me up. This would have been a more appropriate opener.
One thing that hurts a lot of this record (just an opinion) is that the group sound really professional throughout. Yes, that’s not necessarily a bad thing by any means, but the restraint on songs such as “Where’d All the Time Go” removes a lot of the youthful exuberance the band portrayed (and do in the live setting). Where once trading vocal parts between singers Leaman and McMicken always lit the songs afire, here they just seem far too casual. Perhaps that’s the one drawback on Shame Shame; the band have gotten so good at what they do, that a bit of the spirit has been lost on the side of the road during some endless Spring tour.
Don’t mistake this criticism for entire disappointment, for there is plenty left to enjoy. “Later” with its driving piano shows a bit of a new approach for the group. While there is a bit of instrumental tinkering in the song, you sort of wait for the band to let go entirely, which doesn’t happen, except for the vocals, their most powerful appearance on the record. It’d be interesting to see if the band could ever let loose with their recorded material.
Dr. Dog do tamper a bit with their songwriting approach throughout Shame Shame. “I Only Wear Blue” is mostly a vocal performance for the opening minute or so, just before the band jumps in to encourage a bit of fun. Even the lyrics say “let’s get on with it,” suggesting that on some level, the band knows it’s best when they’re pushing themselves, and their listeners. But, for all the experimenting you find, the band always seem to resort to their old tricks.
The past several years have been really good for Dr. Dog, and one would hope that Shame Shame would only further their rise in the music world. Instead, they’ve crafted an album full of really enjoyable songs, but songs that don’t ever seem to truly take off from a rigorous recording plan one might set up in the studio. New Dr. Dog tunes are never bad, but at the same time, it seems like we’re at a standstill, waiting for something to change, if only to remind us why we loved this group so much in the beginning.
Download: Dr. Dog – Stranger [MP3]
The band will be in Austin on May 1st at Emos.