I have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The angel says, “You must retain some ethics and objectivity when reviewing an album. You must focus solely on the music.” Then the devil pipes in, “You cannot review this album without mentioning who is in this band. Music is as about image as anything else. Besides, this band might not even have a record deal were it not for its very famous member.”
Ah, yes, the devil’s words ring true. The band in question is the Los Angeles trio Dogstar, and the celebrity in that band is Ted “Theodore” Logan himself, Keanu Reeves. To his credit, Reeves doesn’t seem to be using the group as a vehicle for self-promotion. He is unlikely to be pouting and gyrating front and center in a video anytime soon, for he is a mere sideman in Dogstar, just the bass player. The band is really a vehicle for singer/guitarist Bret Domrose, who also penned a number of the songs on Happy Ending, the group’s American debut.
While Reeves’ fame certainly couldn’t have hurt Dogstar’s chances of landing a recording contract (some fans and detractors of the actor are sure to seek this album out due to sheer curiosity), Dogstar is hardly a group of no-talents. Domrose proves a capable vocalist and musician, and a strong writer of straightforward guitar pop. Reeves and drummer Rob Mailhouse are adequate, if not electric, performers as well. At times, the band sounds a bit like Matchbox 20 (due mostly to Domrose’s passionate delivery), but Dogstar’s songs have better hooks and are less homogenous. Some of this music might even be dubbed power-pop were the vocals and guitars not so gritty.
Lyrically, dreams, sentimentality, and failed love prevail. While Dogstar isn’t afraid to rock out, Domrose can simultaneously sing things like, “You are the sun / I wanna see everything / I will not run / I wanna be everything in you” (“Cornerstore”) and “A breeze upon my face / Smells sweet as your embrace” (“Washington”). In this context, the group’s cover of The Carpenters’ classic “Superstar” fits in nicely with its naïve and lovely line, “Come back to me again / And play your sad guitar.”
If Reeves’ high profile has provided Dogstar with an unusual amount of publicity for such a young group, let’s hope it does not unduly hinder the band’s chances of being taken seriously. For, although Happy Ending isn’t a remarkable album, it is a strong one that shows promise. The album provides Domrose a showcase for his composing and performing talents, while giving Reeves’ detractors little ammunition.
// Notes from the Road
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