Dr. Dog makes some of the most inoffensive music around—straight-up rock ‘n roll that echoes every classic rock reference you want to throw out there—but the Philadelphia band tends to be pretty polarizing. The debate essentially boils down to whether or not you think recreating a sound from a particular time and in a particular style, without much innovation of your own, is enough. I go back and forth on this question, but when Dr. Dog’s tunes are as consistently enjoyable as those on the band’s latest album, Shame, Shame, it’s hard to let their unoriginality get in the way of a good listen.
Dr. Dog isn’t trying anything new here—the melody that kicks off “Stranger” sounds a lot like the melody of “The Breeze,” which opened 2008’s Fate. Dr. Dog’s rugged harmonies are back in full force, while the instrumentation is a little more twangy and relaxed than before.
That looser feel works well on “Station,” with its slide guitars and plodding rhythm, and again on the ramshackle “Later,” where the raspier of the band’s two lead singers, Toby Leaman, lashes out at an unresponsive love. “Just another cup of coffee/I’ll sit around and wait for you/Just one more cigarette/I’ll sit around and wait for you,” he sings as the song builds into a 60s-esque bridge with ringing bells and a Motown-inspired bassline.
The album’s weaknesses emerge when Scott McMicken handles lead vocals. The thin, tinny tone of his voice fails to engage during the otherwise ho-hum verses of “Shadow People” and “I Only Wear Blue,” and his lyrics tend to underwhelm. On a few tracks though—“Where’d All the Time Go” and “Mirror, Mirror” in particular—his voice is perfectly suited to the more straightforward music behind him, and he carries the songs as they approach their huge, immensely catchy choruses.
Dr. Dog has always had a great sense of songcraft, tastefully injecting hooks everywhere, even if they never push boundaries. They’re the same band on Shame, Shame, and though it does have clear standouts, there really isn’t a bad track on the album. With the production a little less polished this time around, those tracks sound better than the ones on 2008’s Fate. Though the band isn’t as willfully weird and boisterous as they were on their best album, 2007’s We All Belong, they continue to make quality music for anyone who wishes music sounded as if the eighties never even happened.
Voice’s Choices: “Stranger”, “Where’d All the Time Go”, “Later”