Dr. Dog – Be the Void

by Nick Hugon (International Affairs), published February 16th 2012

Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!

It is nearly impossible to be a rock band without owing your bread and butter to past legends, but  some definitely pay homage (or mimic, if you’re cynical) less conspicuously than others. Unfortunately, Dr. Dog is not – and never has been – one of those inconspicuous bands. Rather expectedly, then, it’s nearly impossible to navigate the pleasant waters of Be the Void without shouting out the various rock gods that Dr. Dog has impersonated.

Dr. Dog has always emulated Bob Dylan in both vocal style and in composition, especially when co-lead vocalist Scott McMicken takes the mic, as he does on “Old Black Hole.” It’s a rather cacophonic track reminiscent of some of Dylan’s louder, electric guitar-driven music; and McMicken’s vocal work is quintessential Dylan in its effortless repetition and melodic stylings.

But it doesn’t stop at a bit of Dylan imitation. “How Long Must I Wait” recalls some of the Rolling Stones’ softer work, and Dr. Dog even throws in the more foot-stompin’, Under My Thumb-esque “Big Girl” later on, which features even more Jagger-like vocals and lyrical themes, this time with co-frontman Toby Leaman crooning.

And then, magically, Scott McCartney and Toby Lennon morph into –oops… well, you get it. “Vampire” captures the violent extreme of Lennon’s vocal range shredding Leaman’s larynx on the powerful chorus. Follow-up track “Heavy Light” borrows The Beatles’ Revolver-era sitar binge that recurs on Be the Void’s closing track, “Turning the Century.”

Late track “Warrior Man” samples considerably from David Bowie’s extra-terrestrial style, but the tribute is particularly audible in vocal approach. The conversational addition of “…man” at then end of certain phrases is an essential component of Bowie’s delightfully casual delivery.

So now you’re confused because I’ve lamented Dr. Dog’s borderline-plagiarist style, but your eyes keep flicking up to that respectable (good, even) score I’ve assigned this record. Let me defend myself:

You will note that I have cited Dr. Dog’s “influences” as Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and Bowie. These are the almost unanimously accepted inimitable artists of popular rock history. Dr. Dog can (and did) try to sound like these artists, but Be The Void simply cannot amount to a total rip-off because, frankly, no one in the world can evoke Mick Jagger’s swagger or Dylan’s detachment. You may argue that this means that Dr. Dog have failed in this copy-cat mission, but I’d say that mission was doomed from the moment it was conceived. Instead, Be the Void is a history lesson featuring (stylistic similarities aside) original songs that are solid, catchy, and effortlessly listenable.

Dr. Dog isn’t trying to change music forever, and to expect anything more would be misguided. It’s a simple band with simple influences and a simple product – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Recommended Tracks: Old Black Hole, Vampire, Big Girl

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