Saying that a band has made an album where they sound like themselves probably seems like an idiotic thing to most people who don't read a lot of music criticism. But it's a case of using a phrase in a non-literal way as a shorthand for a longwinded explanation about how a band is getting comfortable in their own skin, aren't attempting a dramatic change in their sound, and so on. However, in the case of a band like Dr. Dog, who are equally praised and derided for how closely they sound like various classic rock bands (mostly the rock/pop of The Beatles and Kinks with a healthy rustic undercurrent from The Byrds or Crosby, Stills, and Nash), “sounding like themselves” means they've finally absorbed their influences and are charting their own path.
It took many months of further listening, and recently seeing the band live, to finally admit the fact that I think Dr. Dog's Fate is the five star album I thought it might be. I struggled with the fact that Dr. Dog seemed to have just taken ideas and sounds whole cloth from their influences while not bringing much originality to the table, but the songs on Fate are just so damn catchy and enjoyable that after enough time, I didn't care anymore. I had no such reservations about Shame, Shame: from opener 'Stranger', with its excellent bass and drum groove, to the buoyant 'Later', to the raucous sing along 'Jackie Wants A Black Eye', Dr. Dog sound equally as inspired as they did on Fate, but without nearly as much of the baggage associated with sounding too much like other bands. Vocalists Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken are even more comfortable in their own skin this time out; though they both have voices that are achey and slightly rustic in their own ways, they are distinctive and complementary enough to work brilliantly in the same band. Kind of like Lennon and McCartney, really.
The band remarked that for Shame, Shame they were interested in recording in a different way, with simpler arrangements and a live-r sound. Tt's odd, then, that to me these songs sound more polished and intricate than this kind of recording environment would suggest. Both 'I Only Wear Blue' and 'Someday' have subtlety and relative intricacy to their arrangements that wouldn't strike one as naturally translating to a live show. Still, the energy and playing on the album is undeniably strong throughout, and Shame, Shame is packed with guitar heavy material that definitely fits better with the band-as-a-touring-entity rather than band-as-a-recording-entity. If the hooks and melodies aren't quite as strong on this one as they were on Fate, well, it's a necessary trade-off for the funner songs and heftier sound. Kind of like Let It Be compared to the studio perfectionist Abbey Road, really.
Ah, but there I go again with the comparisons to other bands. But at least I'm speaking in comparisons instead of direct borrowing, which is, finally, an unfair charge to make against Dr. Dog. Sure, it took them much longer than other bands to shed their influences, but they're finally sounding like themselves instead of other bands. Shame, Shame proves they're in the midst of a winning streak of studio releases, and, for what it's worth, the show I saw recently proved that they're a well oiled live band, to boot. While I didn't like Wilco's Wilco (The Album) that much, there is something to be said for a veteran band sounding like themselves on album and having a confident, commanding live show to back it up.
5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5