Dr. Dog is quickly becoming America’s beloved nostalgia rock act. Slick production, three-part harmonies and Beatlesque hooks make the band a safe bet for concert-goers, music critics, and movie soundtracks. We All Belong (2007) was lauded by some, including Rolling Stone, as one of the top albums of the year—which is not surprising considering their songs go down easy, like a box of cheap wine. But underneath Scott McMicken’s Lennon-induced vocal inflections We All Belong was merely a rehashing of the fabled flower generation.
The band claims that their new album, Fate, was the effort they were “destined to make”. So it seems the group is destined to become mediocre ‘60s pop revivalists. More importantly, what Fate really shows us is that the Dr. Dog may have overstayed their welcome with a slew of songs which consist of an all too familiar formula.
Slated for its first single “The Old Days” is, oddly enough, stylistically a virtual replicate of their 2007 single “My Old Ways”, albeit with a less catchy chorus. All the ingredients are in place: repetitious piano riff, over-zealous guitar lick, chanting background vox, eventual piano-led crescendo. Even the quirky cabaret bridge can’t save this one.
Probably the album’s strongest selling point is the bouncy pop ballad “The Rabbit, The Bat, The Reindeer”. Ironically enough, the song could probably pass for an indie rock hit circa 2005. After McMicken’s first verse the simple, yet catchy, piano riff drops and a driving bass line carries the song until we are given the second—more glorified version of the first—verse. The song is standard stuff, but the fact that it doesn’t get too caught up in overdubbed harmonies may be its saving grace.
The album’s opener, “Breeze”, is also a standout here, sort of an insincere promise of what is to come. McMicken croons sentimental about “angels in the snow” and putting “needles to the groove” over a “Rocky Racoon”-style guitar riff. At about the third verse the band even gets into Pet Sounds territory with their reverb-drenched vocal harmonies. A chorus of flutes takes us out and into what regrettably is the rest of the album.
On “Hang On”, McMicken showcases his tortured Lennon impression. (“I’ve got blisters on my fingers!). We’ll see this approach again before the album concludes. It rears its head on “The Ark”, a poor take on Noah’s Biblical escape route, and it’s front-and-center on the slacker rock tune, “The Beach”.
There’s a decent three-part harmony on “From” where McMicken sings “Oh-Ohhh my love / don’t you leave me / ‘cause I don’t want to learn how to die”. The song starts off a capella and the boys back him up beautifully. It could really stand on it’s own at this point but here comes the chorus: “It’s like a cho choo train rolling away”. You lost me there Scott, you lost me. An overly dramatic guitar solo appropriately follows, and by this time I’ve lost interest.
This stuff apparently plays better in a live setting, as evidences by the YouTube clips on American late night television and it’s a shame the songs doesn’t translate better on their albums. Their Takers and Leavers EP (2006) featured such haunting tunes as “Die Die Die” with its agonizing tobacco-stained lyrics. For now, it looks like Dr. Dog will stick to their sunny, over-produced pop songs, finding safe ground, pitching tent, and making camp for the night.