Who doesn’t love some good, energetic guitar pop? Dr. Dog may not be reinventing the wheel, but it sure is spinning it pretty hard.
Though they’ve caught flak in the past for their obvious infatuation with the Beatles and other ’60s psychedelic bands, on Shame, Shame the Philly rockers remain dependent on their pitch-perfect harmonies and clangorous recording sound to keep their own thing going. And while the influence is there, the music can stand on its own.
The record kicks off with “Stranger,” an immediate display of co-lead singer Toby Leaman’s sharp-shooting pop instincts. This is Dr. Dog at its best, with a spare drumbeat and guitar riff that leads into a swelling chorus of harmonies. Leaman may sing, “I do believe / that there’s no more tricks up my sleeve,” but we already know better than that.
The album’s lead single “Shadow People” starts out innocently with Scott McMicken’s unusual helium-infused scratchy vocals backed by only an acoustic guitar. Slowly but surely, the song crescendos as he demands, “Where did all the shadow people go?” McMicken sends the song into a barrage of honky-tonk piano in a devilishly danceable beat that wouldn’t sound out of place in a saloon.
Still, you can’t delve too far into Shame, Shame without hearing the looming (but not overbearing) presence of the Fab Four. “Where’d All the Time Go?” begins with a Magical Mystery Tour-esque tape loop with indiscernible radio jumble in the background. It could be dismissed as a tired rip-off if the band didn’t sound so damn infectious when the descending chords of the verses make way for the pop-perfect chorus.
If nothing else, Shame, Shame is an album with a vibe. In keeping with Dr. Dog’s old-school tendencies, it clocks in at less than 40 minutes. Isolated, the songs are all melodic and quirky enough to put individually on a carefully constructed mixed CD, and as a collective entity the nuances of each song are complemented by each other. McMicken’s power pop majesty of “Mirror, Mirror” is nicely balanced out by Leaman’s more traditional vocals on the lethargic bluesiness of the title track.
Unlike 2008’s Fate, which had some standouts but was overall a tad lackluster, Shame, Shame is both more consistent and delivered with more conviction. Often lauded as an excellent live band, now more than ever the charisma translates in the studio. Leaman and McMicken may draw from the oft-visited arsenal of classic ’60s chamber pop and old-school rock’n’roll blues, but on Shame their songwriting chops and superb harmonies give them license to do so.
When you get down to it, Dr. Dog creates good, pure rock music. And if you don’t like that, shame on you.