[14 November 2011]
The blues-heavy, riff-focused classic guitar rock prevalent in the ‘70s has seen better years. Given the advent of so many different genres of rock (and music in general), it seems that over time interest has risen in the less straightforward forms of rock ‘n’ roll, ranging from Radiohead’s genre-bending alternative to the highly complex, technical prog rock of bands like Tool and Dream Theater. The value of a verse-chorus structure dominated by wicked riffs and shredding solos seems a bygone concern in many ways. Even bands who are considered to be revisiting the classic rock format, the Black Keys being a notable example, seem to be doing it though a contemporary, revisionist filter. One might argue that such a possibility is unavoidable, but the Parlor Mob makes a convincing case that classic rock can sound as fresh as it once did in a contemporary setting, without any overtly modern revisions.
For the most part, Dogs does this very well. The album doesn’t sound completely devoid of any modern influence, but it does sound at home with many classic rock LPs. This is high-octane, distortion-fueled rock ‘n’ roll from start to finish. Influences from all over the classic rock sphere are here, which is a departure from the band’s debut album, And You Were a Crow. That record, while no doubt just as rock-centric as Dogs is, was dominated by and large by southern rock; much of the album recalls the Black Crowes. On the whole, the various influences present contribute to an overall solid release, albeit one not without its caveats.
The album’s general sonic tendencies lean toward the bluesy rock ‘n’ roll that bands like Aerosmith once did so well; “Take What’s Mine” is a good example of this. On one of the album’s more contemporary moments, “I Want to See You” waxes Audioslave in its guitar tone. Though Mark Melicia’s vocals don’t recall Chris Cornell’s (oddly enough, they’re reminiscent of Cedric Bixler-Zavala, though lacking that singer’s high register), the guitar tone is pure Morello. On “Hard Enough,” the band channels its inner Foreigner, with a passionate vocal delivery accompanied by a somehow-not-cheesy tambourine to drive it home. These obvious reference points fortunately don’t come off as pastiche, but instead as tributes to the artists who have provided them with the sound that they’re aiming at.
The tracks that don’t contain any blatant reference points, however, are the album’s strongest. The cocksure swagger of “Fall Back” is the most adrenaline-laced cut on the album, and if any track successfully captures the classic rock sonic the band is aiming for, it’s this song. “Practice in Patience”, the best of the album’s few ballads, features a rather curious keyboard melody, one that almost is at odds with the chord pattern played on the guitar.
While that ballad is successful, the album’s other two don’t match up. For instance, “Slip Through My Hands”, though not awful on the whole, is undone by its perplexingly bad lyrics: “The things I love / Seem to slip through my hands / Like a big red balloon / Or a grain of sand.” The other ballad, “Holding On,” is a properly executed but typical string-backed ballad, with an equally heart-rending lyric (“I gave my hope / I gave my heart / Until the two were torn apart”). The song doesn’t cross the border of overly sappy, but it certainly does approach it.
Despite these individual weaknesses, one overall criticism of the record is that the album doesn’t feel quite cohesive. The album is full of well-written and well-performed rock songs, any number of which are likely to get radio play. This album is full of great hooks and catchy riffs. However, by the time the record has reached its conclusion, the album as a whole fails to stand out as a unified piece. Instead, it feels like a compilation of a bunch of good rock songs with a few misfires. The band, of course, hardly has the obligation to make a concept record, but a little more unity in the album’s material could have done it well.
The album concludes with its most explosive track, “The Beginning”. This song is bound to be a live favorite, and ironically a set closer. “This is the start of something / This is the end of who we were,” the vocals go, atop powerfully strummed guitar chords. Dogs is the sound of a band that knows how to rock out the same way its forebears did, while also staying true to its contemporary vision as a band. This record by no means breaks any new ground in the grand scheme of rock ‘n’ roll, but it seems that the Parlor Mob isn’t bent on doing anything of that sort. The band seems very much content to just rock, and for the most part the resulting product of Dogs is a sign that the Parlor Mob is doing that very well.