Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
Dr. Dog, even now, 11 years into the Philadelphia band's existence, is still passionately looking for retrospection to provide the clarity that we're all doomed to find clothed in the murkiness that will continually force us, bewildered, to keep trying and struggling forth. The themes that the five friends started getting their hands messy with on their debut album "Toothbrush," have been defined, redefined, solidified and no where near exhausted as Scott McMicken, Toby Leaman, Zach Miller, Eric Slick and Frank McElroy have drawn from complicated life, new life that only ever goes part of the way in explaining anything - often confusing it all at the same time. It's as if the chase is always on, in a Dr. Dog song, to find wisdom in the past, while always coming to the conclusion that everything they've learned about death, love, moving on, coming back, pain and joy is and will be inconclusive. It all rattles and fades, shakes us and worries us, props us up and weakens us to a point where the rhetorical question of, "Why, why, why?" never gets too old or too far from the tongue and lips. It's all of these "whys" that give McMicken and Leaman, the chief lyric writers of the band, so much cause and so much of that dripping nectar that they find readily at their teeth and fingertips. Within the cigarette smoke and their sleep-deprived days and nights, the two men (with distinctly different writing habits) who grew up in the same neighborhood as little boys, they sink themselves into the asking of impenetrable queries and explorations of aspects of relationships that are never salient, but are so slippery that they share characteristics with salience. The group's latest full-length, "Shame, Shame," follows the ideas of forever strangers, time flying and not learning enough in the span of all that rapid progression of days and years into that great whirring realization that we're all significantly older and running out of the precious stuff at quite an incredible rate of speed. Along with these ideas are those that are treated with the same brand of stirring, revivalist roots rock and roll that they've almost single-handedly brought back into the kind of vogue that makes it seem as if it's all around us these days. They have arguably been the leaders of the movement of forcing us all to reexamine our love for "Music From Big Pink," "Before The Flood," "Smiley Smile/Wild Honey" and even "Sam Cooke At The Copa," to some degree.
They've ingratiated their modern concerns of tired times, sunken dreams, discouraging bottom lines, wild sweetness and unbearable beauty with an inventive take of the music of their scruffy heroes from many decades prior. They've turned it into a new sound, more evident than ever before on songs like "Unbearable Why," which marries old R&B bass grooves, harmonies out of every possible direction and a penchant for hooks that makes most grown men weep. In the song, McMicken sings a line that might as well be a mantra for the band from until eternity: "The eye of the storm, beware, beware/And still there's a thrill in the air." It marks everything about the band that makes its live shows unbeatable and its records some that will stand the test of time as the cream of this generation. They remind us that this is a shared experience. They remind us that everyone grows bags under their eyes sometime in life. They remind us that most of everything that we get ourselves into every day is both scary as and exciting as fuck. This cannot be helped and Dr. Dog helps us remember that. We are swept up into their flowing waves of full-bodied electricity and they lull us, wow us into a state that rivals any kind of high. It's the high of our broken, but persevering little hearts.