It’s worth pointing out that with Old Dog: New Tricks, Dennis Young is neither trying to benefit from his status as That Guy From Liquid Liquid nor is he capitalizing on the emergence of the NYC neo-punk funk genre, which he easily could have done based on his name alone. Since LL’s bring-the-house-down performance last spring at the Knitting Factory and the re-emergence of the similar-sounding ESG, NYC has been aching for more minimalist percussive jam, which both of those bands were the pioneering examples of in early-’80s New York. Yes, the young NYC retro-rock bands are good students and learned lessons from these bands, but if you’re That Guy From Liquid Liquid, well, that gets heads’ heads up.
Old Dog: New Tricks is LL-like, yes, but mostly in a percussive sense, which was/is Young’s major contribution to the band. Young’s percussion for this album is more groove-oriented than the densely funky layers he created for the classic (and super-rare) Liquid Liquid EPs, more Future Days-era Can than hardcore Fela Kuti. Young’s distinct polyrhythms kick off the opener, “Falling,” and there’s a weirdly pleasant tension between the smoothly hip beats and his very sentimental vocals in a Siamese Dream sort of way, and that’s a compliment.
But a big problem with Old Dog: New Tricks is that its songs are groove songs. That’s not a problem in itself, but the songs rely largely on Young’s vocals, which are cliche-ridden and sometimes silly. Lyrics as hackneyed as “Are you groovin’ / Are you movin’ / Shakin’ to the beat” are pretty inexcusable in a music form that’s definitely not celebrating its own brainlessness.
“Primitive Substance” hints at more problems that plague the album, namely the watered-down jazz factor. The tune is positively Billy Ocean-esque in its saxed-up groove-cheeze. “Dreaming of Miles” and “Incandescence” are more persistent, sub-Mendoza Line jazz, hinting a potential fondness for slickly-produced mid-’80s cornball music. “Dervish Delight” begins as an obvious standout with its pounding Afrobeat hits over a droning organ, but again, it’s hard to reconcile the mediocre sax contributions and wankily jamming guitar.
Yet despite all this criticism, I still sort of like Old Dog: New Tricks in that same Siamese Dream guilty pleasure sort of way. Hey, let’s not get too hip behind our reflective aviators — Young’s album stubbornly refuses to fall back on tired kick-snare-kickkick-snare formulas of most “alternative” music, and serves just fine as an inoffensively listenable toe-tapper.