Dogs – Tall Stories from Under the Table
by Mike Mineo
If I were to compare Brit indie-rockers Dogs to a specific breed within their namesake, it would be appropriate to keep the breed within those pooches who retain aggressiveness, fast-paced fury, and often, in good circumstances, a degree of loving fun. Perhaps a well-trained Rottweiler would apply? Well, I am sure the dog experts can pinpoint a better example. Regardless, Dogs fit all of these specifications of naturally bounded vehemence quite well. Their expeditious guitar progressions are complemented by groomed guitarists Rikki Mehta and Luc Vargas, backed by the efficiently concise rhythm section of bassist Duncan Timms and drummer Rich Mitchell. Rounded out by the snarling vocals of Johnny Cooke, the London-based five-piece established themselves as staples of this decade’s post-punk revival with their debut album in 2005, Turn Against This Land. I found it to be an excitable album, with the standout track “London Bridge” being one of the catchiest singles of the year. The fact that it was their debut single made it all the more impressive. Despite a handful of memorable tracks in the same vein, the band displayed an overall indifference to the majority of bands touting the same style. With obvious influences like The Jam and The Clash being significantly consistent, Dogs’ debut was fairly typical in contrast to other releases in the genre. However, keep in mind that, for a debut, it was quite promising. It allowed the band to gain a steady reputation and strong national fan base, building anticipation for their eventual sophomore album, Tall Stories from Under the Table.
With Tall Stories from Under the Table set to be released this June, it represents an immediate progression of maturity for the overzealous five-piece. Whereas they considered Turn Against This Land to be a youthful ode to their punk-ridden influences, they personally note that Tall Stories from Under the Table represents newly originated experience with a lack of self-doubt. “[We] changed from being the next best big thing into proper musicians,” states bassist Duncan Timms. “All of us have moved on individually on our instruments and that comes through.” I suppose this supposed growth in maturity caused the prolific Paul Weller to lend a helping hand. Weller, undoubtly one of the band’s largest singular influences, makes a guest appearance on the album’s closer, “Let It Lay”. Simply put, if you have Paul Weller as a fan of your band, you definitely have something going. With no surprise considering the song’s placement and notable guest spot, “Let It Lay” is the most emotionally durable song on the album. Weller’s appearance is brief and is contained in the introduction of the song but Cookie carries out the rest of the vocal duties with the snarling English passion that most fans have grown to love. In addition to Weller, Dogs enlisted the aid producer Steve Musters (PJ Harvey, Tom Vek) for production duties on the album.
Honestly, the band is confusing me a bit with their perception of stylistic transition. “We were trying to get away from the punky and raw sound of the first album,” bassist Rikki Mehta said. “We didnâ€™t want to make an album that had the same sound throughout.” I suppose that songs like the acoustically layered “Chained to No One” and the steadily building “Winston Smith” offer an initially softer approach led by patience and withstanding fortitude, though both songs eventually transcend into the similarly executed post-punk revival formula that the first album was primarily recognized for. That being said, this certain post-punk admiration remains strong for the band and the instrumental progression is noticeable for those who have heard Turn Against This Land. The melodies and overall progression in the songs are much more stronger and memorable than they were on the debut, with opening singles “Dirty Little Shop” and especially the ecstatic “Soldier On” being the best songs the Dogs have written so far in their short but promising career. “Soldier On” is interlaced with the typical structure of rhythmic-led verses evolving into fully blown choruses in which Cooke howls and enjoyably mutters his way through melodically delectable riffs and corresponding bass lines. Mehta’s mention of abandoning a previously “punky and raw sound” appears to be only half-true. While the enjoyable post-punk sound has remained, producer Steve Musters has stepped in to cause Dogs’ coat to shine with further elegance and craftsmanship.
Johnny Cooke remains to be one of those vocalists who sounds best suited for the most belligerent musical atmosphere possible. He clamors his way through ceaselessly energetic songs like “Little Pretenders” and “These Days” with ease. Cooke’s vocals remain entirely suitable for his lyrics dealing with the comparable troubled youth, shrouded in one night stands, alcoholic binges, and romanticized misery. “He might not notice how cold it gets when the gin runs out and history is born again,” Cooke professes as solemnly as his assailing vocals allow on the solid “Winston Smith”. “You can’t even think, oh you wanna be with her.” The lonely nights and self-inflicting ideals brought up in the infectiously eminent “On a Bridge, By a Pub” are held with effective fervor in light of an astoundingly vivacious chorus, one that represents the bustling Dogs in their brightest view. Tall Stories from Under the Table, much like Dogs’ debut, contains booming choruses complemented by thickly enforced verses led by Cooke’s effervescent growl. While the band intended to step it up stylistically, their approach remains to be more of the same. That being said, the melodic enhancement in Tall Stories from Under the Table is a huge step over their debut to the effect that it will provide to account for a significant amount of durability in comparison to its predecessor. Or, if my words do not sound convincing to you, take into account that Paul Weller is a big fan of the band. That is certainly worth more than a rambling critic.