Dr. Dog’s new album is rough, boisterous and built for performance. In Be The Void, the contained, artful fun of albums like Shame Shame and Fate is lost in an energetic ruckus that emulates the Dr. Dog live experience. Barroom shouts and low-fi drums underlie jangly, electric riffs and playful nonsense lyrics. Even the existential questioning in “That Old Black Hole” and the wail of slide guitar in “Lonesome” sound reckless, almost gleeful.
After ten years and six studio albums, the band decided to simplify their recording method for this record in search of a more raw and unpolished sound. Band leaders Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman set studio rules and restrictions on recording time to stimulate creativity and keep the band honest to their vision for a novel and uninhibited record.
At first, you’d think they were destined for success. It takes just seconds to find the living pulse of the first track, “Lonesome,” with its rowdy stomps, slide guitar and wailing chorus: “What does it take to be lonesome? Nothing at all.” And the group doesn’t skip a beat into their catchy single, “That Old Black Hole,” with its joyous, synth-backed refrain. Next, they pick up the pace with the infectious pop-rock of “These Days.” This song is classic Dr. Dog — nothing new, but great all the same.
Despite its energy and good intentions, however, the album slips into mediocrity with the painfully dull fifth track, “Get Away,” and never completely recovers. The slow song, with its bongos, has a jarringly generic world music-like chorus and falls miles short of previous Dr. Dog rock ballads like “Someday” and “Hang On.” Things recover a bit with the organ-lead “Will you do the Trick” and “Big Girl,” a pop-punk tune — something new. But the second half of this album is marred by merely okay tracks and a particular dud in “Warrior Man,” which sounds like standard 70’s heavy metal.
Fans may appreciate Dr. Dog’s return to a rougher sound after the more polished Shame Shame, but Be The Void is uneven and, in many ways, less interesting than that record. The enthusiasm and raw energy that bursts forth from tracks like “These Days,” and “Lonesome,” are the saving grace for Be The Void.
“Everybody was kind of excited about the fact that it was like the old days,” bassist Toby Leaman told the North County Times in San Diego, Calif. “You come in and feel really good about the material and really good about where you are as a band, and you just bang it out.”
“Be The Void” is invigorating, reckless fun, but it lacks some of the subtlety of past albums. Maybe Dr. Dog “banged it out” a little too quickly on this one.