A small reflection on the effects of time's passage: back in the late '70s, when many of the bands who have since proved an influence on alt-poppers like The Golden Dogs wanted to establish their fannish smarts, the primary tracks to cover were either soul, reggae, or something particularly stoopid from AM Top 40 (the Ramones doing "Indian Giver," f'rinstance).
It would not have been a track by Paul McCartney & Wings that at that time would've been considered too corporate and overplayed to be cool. Yet today, the sophomore release by Toronto's Dogs features a remake of "Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five" that's so faithful, you half expect it to segue into a "Band on the Run" reprise. Three-plus decades have made Wings at least as hep as the 1910 Fruit Gum Company.
A hard-rockin' foursome with the nervously angst-ridden energy of the art school D.I.Y.ers and a winning appreciation for more mainstream '70s poppishness, the Golden Dogs know the pleasures of sputtery slice-through-yer-eardrums 'lectric guitar lines and glockenspiel sweetening.
The band's new disc, Big Eye Little Eye (Yep Roc), which was first released in Canada a year ago, comes to the U.S. courtesy of Yep Roc, and it's a nifty pop-rock set. Front man/songwriter Dave Azzolini, despite a voice that can occasionally be overwhelmed by his more bellowy explorations (e.g., "Life on the Line"), has a knack for crafting strong hooks onto speedy, lyrically impressionistic compositions.
At his best – and abetted by his sweet-voiced other half, keyboardist Jessica Grassia – Big Eye pulls guitar-centered new wave from its decade of origin and makes it sing for today.
In "Never Meant Any Harm" for instance, Grassia's keys percolate with a cheerfulness that belies the singer's vaguely self-rationalizing lyrics; in "Saints at the Gates," Azzolini channels both Leo Sayer (circa "The Show Must Go On") and the Dixieland standard "When the Saints Go Marching In," even burying a trace of jazzy horn work in the background.
"Runouttaluck" takes a pushy bass and drum line (courtesy of Neil Quin & Taylor Knox, respectively), blends a B-52's-styled chorus and a Beach Boys allusion on top of its vaguely downbeat storyline, then caps it all with a wordless chorus that could've come right out of a Turtles 45. Okay, guys, I succumb: this kind of pop blend is just too much fun to resist!
If I have any major grouse with Big Eye, it's with Paul Aucoin's low-fi production, which on more than one cut works against the band's full sound. Tracks like the raucous album opener "Dynamo" and "Strong," in particular, would've truly benefited from production that didn't make Knox's drumming sound like it was being recorded through the wall of a separate room.
But, come to think of it, early Talking Heads' recordings were pretty thin, too, and they've all wormed their way into my personal soundtrack over time. So maybe that's not as big a gripe as I thought the first time I plopped this disc into my compact disc player. Still, I'd love to hear these guys with a producer who was more expansively aware of the band's possibilities.
Wonder if Brian Eno's got any free time . . .