(We Buy Gold Records)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The pre-release press for Critical Equation suggests that the record represents a kind of rededication by Dr. Dog. Sometimes that kind of thing can signal a radical departure, but, luckily, no such event is in the cards. Great harmonies, ebullient on the rockers, sighing on the slow ones; psych-rock melodic colors; locked-in rhythms; and hooks, plenty of hooks: This band does what it does very well, so no real change was necessary.
Still, there is no doubt that Critical Equation pops and darts with the energy of a brand new band. Producer Gus Seyffert deserves some of the catalytic credit, but his main job seems to have been focusing Dr. Dog on their strengths. On the creative side, songwriters Scott McMicken and Toby Leaman are responsible for a strong set of originals that occasionally strive for philosophical profundity but are at their best when they’re at their loosest.
The album is bookended by a pair of songs (“Listening In” and “Coming Out Of The Darkness”) whose fussy atmospherics keep them at arm’s length. By contrast, when the band just lets it roll on one of McMicken’s and Leaman’s sturdy melodies, the results are irresistible. “True Love” is a ridiculously catchy rockabilly stomp, while “Heart Killer” romps along like a lost Cheap Trick classic. Dr. Dog also possesses a knack for just the right curve-ball touch on their songs, such as when the dreamy acoustic track “Night” is adorned by UFO synths.
The standout is “Under The Wheels,” which settles into a pop-blues groove of which Steve Miller would be proud. On that track, McMicken sings, “’Cause I tried so hard to make sense of it all/ And I’ll be damned if I do it again.” When Critical Equation isn’t trying too hard to solve those mysteries lyrically or complicate matters musically, it’s prime Dr. Dog. And that’s more than enough.