Both blessed and haunted by a stream of admirable comparisons to legendary bands‚ and constantly labeled as classic A.M. pop-rock revivalists‚ the time has come to acknowledge that Dr. Dog has usurped the position in many listeners' hearts once held by the band's own influences. 2008's Fate was the narrative of this band embracing a care-free cycle of moments‚ and the album put a backbeat to a seemingly honorable lack of regret and control. Shame‚ Shame now finds these same narrators questioning that momentary embrace: wondering the worth of the wear of the road‚ wondering what key remnants of themselves they've lost‚ and finding shame in the detachment of reality they've let slip away. This album is flooded with questions and very few answers‚ but Dr. Dog's self-realization as it is envisioned and manifested in the songs on Shame is a piece of modern musical legend.
The prolific songwriting duo of frontmen Toby Leaman and Scott McMicken‚ both capable of pulling a Homeric tune out of their back pockets at any time‚ have found new strength by embracing their individual visions on Shame‚ Shame. While it has become easier to distinguish whose songs are whose‚ it's become increasingly less fathomable to comprehend how they tie it all together so well. Bookended by Leaman's "Stranger" and his closing title track‚ these two tunes serve as the thematic ins and outs for the monologue McMicken croons of within.
A bounce-heavy verse groove and a charging chorus make "Stranger" grab your attention far quicker than any prior album openers. The celebratory drive of the tune coupled with the sullen nature of the lyrics present the heart of Shame‚ Shame: the recognition of self-doubt and the subsequent push to move ahead are motions that arrive far more naturally with a well-struck snare drum.
"Shadow People" is the first in McMicken's interwoven melodic allegory‚ and embraces the same haunting dichotomy Leaman set forth. There's an amazing linear growth to the song‚ as the chorus only seems to expand rather than repeat‚ and while the listener can never match the harmonic mastery of the band‚ there is an empathetic desire to sing along to the tune's dark pleas. There should be no hesitation at this point in putting McMicken at the forefront of present-day songwriters‚ as his use of space‚ progression‚ and lyrical reference embody every aspect of the word "timeless."
"Where'd All the Time Go" is the obvious centerpiece of the album‚ and right from the opening melody-loop‚ the track is yearning for the crackle of vinyl. Using outside production for the first time‚ both a brave and necessary move for the self-supporting Philadelphia crew‚ McMicken's vocals are more distant than usual‚ which adds an eerie touch of extra space to the proximate heart of the song and manages to make an already heavy tune even more transcendent. His cycle of heart-wrenching, head-nodding continues with "I Only Wear Blue‚" a poignant strike at seclusion highlighted by lines like "When you can't be yourself/ there's just too much to be" and "We're just two of many fractions of a part."
Other Dr. Dog albums have ended with a Leaman/McMicken collaborative track‚ but here we have two subsequent album closers‚ perhaps due to the two different embraces of shame that their shared path of discovery presents. On the tight drifter "Shame‚ Shame‚" Toby Leaman steals the voice of a Stardust-era David Bowie‚ and with Jim James on background vocals he embraces his past acts of disgrace and solitude‚ and uses his awareness to push forth. On the soulful anthem "Jackie Wants a Black Eye‚" Scott McMicken likewise finds new inspiration in being aware‚ but his opening comes from the notion that "we're all in this together and we all fall apart." Again‚ a dark refrain manages to reach new levels of collective warmth‚ and this bittersweet honesty elevates this album to the top of many a deserted-island record list‚ (present company included).