I like the good old three chord rock and roll as much as any other jaded music writer does. But I also like innovation. I love hearing young bands trying out new things. And no, a bunch of synthesizers playing over drum loops are not what I would call new things. For several years, and over the course of several albums, I’ve been trying to cozy up to Philadelphia’s Dr. Dog because they are clearly an innovative young band who, while they respect the value of a great song, seem to always be looking for new ways to present it. Unfortunately, I have found that to this point the magic has proved elusive for them when it comes to their studio work. I saw their live show a couple of years ago and loved it. I just couldn’t connect with the albums. I recognized and respected what they were up to, but it all seemed just a little precious to me. The effort that they spent making it look effortless was simply too obvious.
Dr. Dog is back with their Anti- Records debut Shame, Shame, and this time I am pleased to report that they have come very close to the mark. Once again the band has adopted a kitchen-sink type approach, throwing all sorts of different musical influences and sounds into the blender. What has emerged is their strongest and most mature effort to date. From the pulsating pop of the album’s first single, “Stranger,” to the dobro and piano-driven Americana of “Station”, and the sublime vocal harmonies of the domestic drama “Jackie Wants A Black Eye,” the band has successfully blended classic rock smarts with contemporary indie attitude to create something which they can very much call their own. In other words, Dr. Dog does not sound like everyone, or for that matter anyone, else.
Dr. Dog has the potential to create a pop masterpiece and they are getting closer to it each time out. Shame, Shame marks the first time that they have ventured outside of their home studio, to Dreamland Studios in West Hurley, NY, and worked with an outside producer, Rob Schnapf, who has worked with Elliott Smith and Beck. That voyage out of their comfort zone has proven to be worthwhile. While there are still times when I think they’re trying too hard to make it seem easy, for the most part Shame, Shame finds Dr. Dog delivering on their enormous promise. While it is not an album that gives up its treasures readily, there are rewards to be found for those who are willing to dig in and find them.
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