Taking a cue from their American counterparts, many U.K. indie bands lately seem to have been digging through their local record shops’ ’70s, ’80s and early-’90s bins. Perhaps trapped in this kaleidoscope of another era, Glasgow’s Dogs Die in Hot Cars is rooted in what has consistently worked in these Brit-pop eras. The band’s attempts to synthesize XTC’s vocals and Damon Albarn’s melodies aren’t engaging dance-floor fodder and may sway you toward digging out your copy of Oranges and Lemons. But other brief moments of Please Describe Yourself transcend such pigeonholing and prove Dogs Die in Hot Cars may have found its niche.
Oddly, the first track and the single, “I Love You ‘Cause I Have To,” launches with a classic ska riff lifted straight from Madness or any number of mid-’90s skank bands we all may harbor at the foot of our record collections. Before the first verse leaves you fearing the return of plaid pants and suspenders, it launches into a swirling and infectious chorus reminiscent of Parklife-era Blur. But, wow, ska; that was a close one.
Lyrically and sonically the band members have their fixations. Crisp strumming and drums provide structure for the bulk of the tracks and more often then not give way to predictably pleasant choruses. Songwriter Craig Macintosh fills his tales with failed affairs and a penchant for celebrity fixation (“Celebrity Sanctum,” “Paul Newman’s Eyes”) while remaining aloof in delivery and generous with catchy hooks.
Most striking is Macintosh’s uncanny vocal semblance to Andy Partridge. This is an albatross the band will have to bear throughout its career. And it’s apparent in the songwriting, often a cherry-picking of XTC’s best work, that they’re aware of the corner they’ve painted themselves into. Many of the tracks blend together, but the band strives for diversity; keyboard noodling and dense layers of vocals pepper many songs. With production from Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley, who helmed everyone from Madness to Dexy’s Midnight Runners to Morrissey, this all begins to make sense.