If Fate is, as Dr. Dog claim, the album they were destined to make, then “The Ark” is the song they’ve been building up to. The track shows off a groove-focused attitude the band have never showcased and burns with more raw emotion than any track in the Philly quintet’s repertoire. It’s the centerpiece to Fate. The album spends its first half setting the stage for “The Ark” to drown all before it, and the second half goes out in a whimper.
Dr. Dog have never tried to hide their genre appropriation, and god (only) knows it’d be pretty hard with the fellas these guys are jacking: the Beatles and the Beach Boys. But thanks to the bump up to a 24-track for the recording sessions on the band’s lukewarm 2007 album, We All Belong (a huge improvement over the eight-track used to record 2005’s spotty Easy Beat), Fate finds Dr. Dog expanding their sound to include more vocal tracks, strings, horns, and even trying Motown pastiche on for a few go-rounds (like on the nice but nondescript “Hang On,” and the loosely inspirational “Uncovering the Old.”)
But in case newcomers were confused as to where the band are coming from stylistically, the band offer up “The Old Days,” a winking nod to go back to the “old days,” and judging from the rolling piano, these guys ain’t talking about the 1980s. The song is the first half’s lone stalwart — ironically, it’s the only one that’s sound isn’t completely tied up in nostalgia.
After “The Ark,” “From” finds the band in half-work-holler/half-walking-blues mode, yelling about the most stereotypical symbol of the old days — the train. The song is pretty hokey; singer Scott McMicken sings “choo choo train” while the rest of the band goes “hoot hoot hoot,” but it’s the only track on the album’s second half worth more than a handful of spins.
Fate exposes the larger problem with Dr. Dog’s catalog — namely, that the band have become so comfortable where they are that they are content to merely play to type. They know we expect them to sounds like the ‘60s, and they deliver. At least Easy Beat had the benefit of unpredictability; you weren’t sure if the band would drop the act at any moment, thanks to some of the looser aspects of that album. Fate, on the other hand, sounds predetermined.