On 2008’s Fate, I finally fell for the musical impressions of Dr. Dog. Seeing much of that album as a rootsy update of the Beatles, it made my best-of list. They surpass that work two years later. With Shame Shame, the Philadelphia group sharpens its arrangements into tight nuggets of 21st century pop glory. David Bowie and the Spiders From Mars’ elegance permeates the title track while the rest of the material wraps elements of the Beatles (post Rubber Soul ), the Beach Boys, the Kinks, Brit-pop, psychedelic pop, subtle reggae touches, and more into one sparkling gift of song after another. Most importantly, they do not overshadow the musical personality of Dr. Dog. The sources enhance the end result.
The shimmering instrumental background balances the lyrical tone on much of Shame Shame, where adulthood clashes with the anything goes attitude of youth, the laying down of roots suffers from a job that finds you leaving them for months at a time and a creative lifestyle allows you to live out your dreams yet it can still be job, a.k.a. daily grind. Uplifted by melodic majesty, “Stranger” rises despite a chorus of self-doubt that somehow still manages to become a peppy sing-along (“I do believe that there are no more tricks up my sleeve/the good ol’ days have passed…”). In “Where’d All the Time Go” Dr. Dog discovers the fragility of life as the song takes its musical cues from a number that the Flaming Lips could have recorded, and “Later” has a bouncy vaudevillian tone as an attempt is made to find a strand of peace in the maelstrom of stress that’s induced from a relationship and job. By the end of the number, the narrator stubbornly perseveres, sticking around at least until the last bits of tobacco burn down to the filter, and then more than likely lighting another cigarette after that. “Jackie Wants a Black Eye” elevates that sensation with the notion that even in the dark times, there’s still company to share your melancholy.
That desperate component of hope causes Shame Shame to emerge on a higher plain of consciousness. It understands the pitfalls, paradoxes and unwanted bargaining that comes from moving on in years, but recognizes that the sour and the sweet moments combine for a powerful concoction of a life lived to the best of one’s abilities.