Everyone Loves Dr. Dog--Except For Pitchfork
After four straight kicks in the band nuts from Pitchfork.com's notoriously fickle reviewers, Dr. Dog's Scott McMicken has learned to roll with the punches.
"From our very first record and everything we've put out since, they've pretty much just ripped us a new one on all those reviews," he says. And he's not kidding—if you only knew Dr. Dog from Pitchfork's descriptions, you might think they were just one of those lame touring Beatles tributes that rolls into the House of Blues every few months.
Less than 24 hours after our interview with McMicken, Pitchfork held true to form again, giving Dr. Dog's Shame, Shame a 6.7 out of 10 (granted, it's the site's highest scoring of the band yet) while at the same time delivering on the outlandish critical barbs fans of the band have grown accustomed to reading between eye rolls—including the following excerpt, perhaps the most long-winded back-handed compliment in the history of music criticism:
"After five offerings that refused to play outside of the same clumsy shadow of 1960s rock fetishism, Dr. Dog proved to be one of the most stubbornly stuck-in-their-way bands of recent memory. Previous release Fate seemed to be a step in the right direction—cleaner production, more attention paid to songwriting instead of bland jamming—but the songs still registered as lazy and reheated in an uncomfortably boring way. So it's a pleasant surprise that after a gruelingly long run of dry, indistinguishable material, Dr. Dog have produced a record that shakes off (most of) their pallid Beatles-borrowing and embraces a bigger, more charismatic sound."
Sure, it may be easy to hear the heavy influence of the Fab Four in the band's sound—from Toby Leaman's nimble, McCartney-esque bass playing to the group's ragged-but-right harmonies—but anyone that labels the group as "pallid" Beatles borrowers is missing the point. Namely, that Dr. Dog are far more concerned with making audiences shake their asses and sing their hearts out than worrying about whether someone thinks they nicked a Harrison solo or the bass line from "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da." Which is pretty much the exact opposite of "pallid" ("lacking sparkle or liveliness"), just for the record.
The band's new album, Shame, Shame, delivers more of the same joyous exuberance that fans have come to expect, with 11 roller rink-ready AM-radio pop tunes that creep further into the recesses of your brain with every listen. It's often said that all of Dr. Dog's albums are "growers," and this one's certainly no different. Aided by producer Rob Schnapf (the knob twiddler behind Elliot Smith's Either/Or and Beck's Mellow Gold), the band focuses their sound without sacrificing their lo-fi roots to major-label gloss, resulting in perhaps their tightest record yet. As McMicken succinctly puts it, "we definitely wanted a bigger sounding record because we wanted it live. And, live, we try to be big."
"Big" is certainly the word for it—from the giant chorus of "Where'd All The Time Go?" to the propulsive bounce of "Later," it's got more than enough hooks to land a legion of new fans, Pitchfork be damned.
"I don't spend a lot of time reading the reviews," McMicken says. "I used to, and then I found that I was becoming kind of vulnerable. You get two kinds of reviews in this day and age. You get intense praise or you get completely destroyed, where the writer of the review actually feels offended that they had to sit down and listen to you."
And as McMicken himself sees it, much of today's music criticism—especially the kind Pitchfork traffics in—is just another symptom of our modern ironic culture, where nothing is sacred or really respected.
"I don't mean to be some old man about these things and open up this generation gap or whatever," he says, "but that's so much of what you see in our culture; it's so saturated by this irony. It's like kids that say 'McDonald's is gross and evil and bad for you and a corporate death machine.' And then it's like 'Let's go to McDonald's, wouldn't it be hilarious?' Pitchfork to me is a cultural phenomenon that's long ago left the sphere of a musical, journalistic context and become, in my mind, something else that doesn't have anything really to do with any longevity in music or any tradition in music or anything building upon something in music.
"In fact, coming to understand Pitchfork as I have—and many people have—I'm almost proud of the fact that they don't support it. Because whatever it is they are, I'm not sure I support it.
"I wouldn't want Hitler to think I was a good person," he says with a laugh. "OK, that's kind of an extreme example, but you know what I mean."
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