“There was this feeling inside me going into making this record that we’d never made an album before,” says guitarist/vocalist Scott McMicken of Dr. Dog’s Shame, Shame, their Anti- debut and the first album made outside the safe confines of their home studio.
As a band that has traditionally built their scrappily spirited albums layer by layer in the undisturbed seclusion of their Philadelphia studio, Dr. Dog realized they would need to leave these comforts and work in a professional studio with the help of an outside engineer and producer if they were to continue their album-by-album growth. In Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliott Smith) they found a producer who had earned his reputation making albums in much the same fashion as Dr. Dog had, eventually moving on to the bigger and better sounds that they now wanted. With his help, the intricate arrangements of Fate were peeled back to reveal the raw immediacy of a tight five-man unit honing their craft.
Despite their loyal hometown following, Dr. Dog could have very well remained a Philadelphia phenomenon had McMicken’s then-girlfriend not slipped a copy of Toothbrush, a collection of home recordings, to Jim James of My Morning Jacket, who would take them on their first tour and prepare the way for the waves of positive press that would greet 2005’s Easy Beat. By 2007, their next album We All Belong was earning the band opening slots for Wilco and the Raconteurs and they were turning up all over late night television. They upped the ante with their sonically ambitious Fate and started headlining their own tours. By the spring of 2009, the treadmill had run them ragged, and their new songs reflected a life spent with the nagging realization that things were out of a balance.
Dr. Dog has created a song cycle of doubt and despair, bookended with the woozily swirling harmonies of Leaman’s lonely opener “Stranger” and the harsh self-critique of the title track, a gnarled admission that sometimes it’s best to admit your mistakes and move on. Their most openly autobiographical release, ranging from McMicken’s exploration of West Philly underlife in “Shadow People” to his account of two soul-bearing late night conversations in “Jackie Wants a Black Eye,” it’s an album whose dark themes are soothed by bright harmonies, taut guitar riffs, and soaring melodies.
“At this point, we’ve set out this buffet for ourselves, but we first had to cook that food and figure out what our tastes are,” McMicken says. “Now it’s time to dig in.”