Dr. Dog is a pack of scruffy gen-Xers who have bad stage names and play music deeply rooted in the Beach Boys and Sgt. Peppers-era psychedelia. In 2006, the band played a few successive tours with the Raconteurs and the Strokes, before landing a spot on the soundtrack for Richard Linklater’s meatpacking expose Fast Food Nation. Now Philadelphia’s psych-pop darlings are poised to mount a ‘60s resurgence with their most ambitious and adequately funded album to date. The question is: will Dr. Dog morph their retrospective slacker rock into a unique and penetrating album? Or, will we be fed another bland rehashing of Brian Wilsonian pop ballads?
For about five years now, Dr. Dog has been pumping out tunes that are painfully reminiscent of ‘60s pop rock. The band employs a psych-pop trifecta of modest organ arrangement, three-part harmonies, and the soulful croon of Scott McMicken (who also refers to himself as “Taxi”). The music is soothing—compared to the plethora of synth-toting indie bands that bastardize the psychedelic approach—but the problem with Dr. Dog is that they don’t stray very much from the original formula. Case in point: “Worst Trip”, the album’s easily digestible radio hit, could have been lifted straight out off an old Scooby Doo episode. (You know, that groovy music that plays every time the gang climbs into the Mystery Machine.)
We All Belong is a significantly more polished version of Dr. Dog’s signature, lazy sunshine pop than previous releases. In that way, the album is strikingly similar to its prelude, Takers or Leavers, a 6-song EP released late last year. The EP included two of We All Belong‘s best tracks, “Aint it Strange” and “Die, Die, Die”. The former is a successful attempt at lo-fi pop, while the latter is a soul-filled lament about chain smoking and unrequited love. Takers or Leavers was meant to be a teaser before the full-length came out, but the long-awaited We All Belong includes only a few notable tracks that aren’t on the EP. The rest is mostly filler.
After the album opens with “Old News”, a catchy tune that has its share of hooks and harmonies, Dr. Dog quickly settles into an endless pattern of sub-par pop songs. From the mediocre “My Old Ways” to the disappointingly Lennon-esque “Don’t Pretend”, the band simply serves up one tawdry track after another. We All Belong briefly picks up with “Aint it Strange” before we are given the obvious double entendre “Worst Trip”. The album does have its moments, but if you’re ripping off the Beatles you have to come up with something better.
If you’re looking for a band that takes psychedelic rock and tweaks it just enough to make it eccentric and enjoyable, you should probably get the new release from Of Montreal. Dr. Dog simply doesn’t offer us anything new, or anything else worth listening to. The band has been successful at becoming both a novelty hippie act to bring on tour and a generic stoner band to include on a soundtrack. Maybe, just maybe, Dr. Dog will end up on an advertisement for a sports utility vehicle.