The Beatles recorded their most prolific albums, the ones that defined the future of rock-n-roll, without ever stepping foot in front of a live audience. Dr. Dog’s je ne sais quoi, their “it”, was forged through a long strange decade of Jim James, festival buzz and tumbleweed venue hopping. This binary distinction between immortal vanguards and a group recording only their second album with a major label seems a bit striking — even downright ludicrous. But the adoration for the Fab Four is heaps abundant from leadman Scott McMicken:
“The things that they came up with in such a short period of time, and styles they traversed and owned, that in itself is such an incredible achievement.” That’s coming from a musician who’s not a “super-avid Beatles listener.” As much as it’s en vogue to distance oneself from the paterfamilias of your genre, for the sake of progress, it never hurts to tinker with the timeless and make it your own vehicle for letting all of us at the back of the bus know what unknown bend is up ahead.They were that lo-fi ‘60s pop psychadelic head trip long before it was lambasted into our hipster eardrums.
But this time everyone should recognize what’s on display here — legendary rock. Not simply textures, tones and tinges, but pop rock ballads that would’ve shined sextuple platinum circa 1969. Fortunately, these Philly boys worked hard for their money and now we all reap the rewards.
A society weaned on a steady diet of silent atomization never deserved a backwater anthem quite as awesome as “Lonesome.” Maybe it’s the South in me, but damn those 2X2 sawdust cans pounded on by Eric “Teach” Slick taste so tangy, so sweet. Bluesy and ballsy as ever, Scott “Taxi” McMicken summons his inner John Lee Hooker when his call and response swagger, “What does it take to be lonesome?/Nothing at all”, hisses and bites like a rabid cottonmouth.
“These Days” is a ramshackle cover of The Strokes' “Barely Legal.” Electric locomotion humming down the third rail with little to no resistance. Nikolai Fraiture would be envious of Toby “Tables” Leaman’s ice cold slap-n-pop bass stylings, charging the rhythm section through with reckless abandon and a steady hand. This is what a jam session in a sweaty cramped room should sound like. Except its not long-winded virtuosity unraveling at every sonic seam. When that amplified E flat kicks in after a momentary lapse in conscious, driving McMickin’s dubious monologue into the ground even further, it’s quite clear that this is the closest to quintessential cool you can experience in well under three minutes.
You can attribute the obligatory goosebumps conjured up on “Get Away” to the subtle keys of Zach “Text” Miller. One minute he’s gently cajoling the action along, letting the minor key tones ease behind the ensuing climax. But wait, what’s this, an unexpected requiem of escalating harmonies? Another gorgeous detour of reversed triads? “A hard, hard ‘livin/But I was hardly alive/Well I kept on rollin/And now I know why.” This is when the storm clouds start to scatter and the radiant beam of light that is/was rock-n-roll begins to illuminate the golden road ahead. The drums pick up. The screams of “Get away” hit falsetto higher than any castrati could ever dream of. Almost euphoria, not quite rapture.
“Heavy Light” may be the weakest track on here but still towers over any disposable single out there via its “meatball palace” of cassette distortion and curiously charming congas. “Over Here, Over There” is an infectious pop hit in the tradition of Huey Lewis or Roxy Music with a way tighter melody.
Last but certainly not least we reach “Turn of the Century”, a troubadour’s ramblings and reservations set to a McCartney walk-and-talk bass line paired sumptuously with amber sitar and dimly lit pipes carrying the torch forward while borrowing some fuel for thought from the titans of yesteryear. A vivid rendition of an ageless sound with fresh flourishes. Dr. Dog are fully aware of their live selves and more than capable of pushing it as far as they can.