Philadelphia's Dr. Dog has turned in a remarkable "official" debut (following a couple of homemade releases) with Easy Beat, filtering classic rock hooks through a D.I.Y. indie rock ethic for an utterly infectious album. Recorded at home on 1/4" eight-track tape (and sounding mostly live), what the album lacks in perfect fidelity it more than makes up for in performance because Easy Beat is simply overflowing with the sheer joy of making music. The occasionally strained vocals and the off-mike shouts and handclaps just let you know that these are real musicians in a room together having a blast. The songs are not just catchy and well-written (to the point of sounding familiar upon first listen), they seem completely effortless and are delivered with the same sort of freshness and enthusiasm as the Beatles' Apple Records rooftop concert. And the Beatles comparisons don't end there: "Say Something" and "Easy Beat" both have a very George Harrison-sounding slide guitar, there is some great use of "Don't Pass Me By"-style slapback echo on the drums ("The World May Never Know"), and the end of "Wake Up" brings to mind the singalong outro to "Hey Jude" (not to mention other passing McCartneyisms). There are also echoes of the Band in the piano and organ work, and the Beach Boys in the vocal harmonies. But the members of Dr. Dog are no mere imitators or postmodern rock reconstructionists. There's a loose swagger to the entire album that suggests a complete lack of pretense along with the feeling that the band is simply doing what comes naturally. They've got a penchant for harmony vocals and complete command of the shoo-wop/doot-doot/doo-wah backing vocal lexicon, in addition to two different-sounding and complementary guitarists (check the dual leads on "Today" or the counterpoint on "Wake Up"). The bass playing is wonderfully melodic and the keyboard playing is great. They've got a good sense of humor as well. Repeated listening reveals tasty little musical details, like the double-tracked piano on "The World May Never Know," or the way the guitarist musically adjusts his pickup selector on "Oh No." How about the way they go from a bouncy little pop tune to a string interlude to an organ-fueled rave-up in the space of about a minute on the same song? The backing vocals are a constant joy, whether it's a perfectly placed "doot-doot" or the way they answer the singer of "Fools Life," ending up with a Talking Heads quote and how that ties in to the next verse. And they've turned in a great batch of songs you'll have trouble getting out of your head to boot. "The Pretender" alone has more great hooks than some bands pack into an entire album. Things take a bit of a turn for the weird through about the middle third of the album, starting with the odd barking guitar and siren-turned-solo on "Easy Beat" and finishing up with the mocking guitars and funny drunken philosophizing of "Fools Life." (Is it a coincidence that the last 30 seconds of "Fool's Life" almost exactly mirror the last 30 seconds of the Mothers' "America Drinks"?) Even so, they still end up a few notches below Ween on the weird scale, and it's only a slight detour. The vast majority of the album is just fresh, vital rock & roll that could have been cut in 1970, but doesn't sound at all dated.
Dr. Dog's influences may seem easy to spot, but the band has managed to forge a very personal sound while sounding familiar at the same time. Easy Beat is the kind of album that goes into your player and doesn't come out for a good week or so, and portions of it will make you remember just how great and how fun rock music can be.
|The World May Never Know / Dr. Dog||Dr. Dog||3:02|
|The Pretender / Dr. Dog||Dr. Dog||5:30|
|Oh No / Dr. Dog||Dr. Dog||4:05|
|Easy Beat / Dr. Dog||Dr. Dog||4:55|
|Dutchman Falls / Dr. Dog||Dr. Dog||4:12|
|Fools Life / Dr. Dog||Dr. Dog||2:26|
|Say Something / Dr. Dog||Dr. Dog||5:37|
|Today / Dr. Dog||Dr. Dog||3:22|
|Wake Up / Dr. Dog||Dr. Dog||4:40|