Philadelphia’s nostalgia-trippin’ quartet has stepped up the recording quality on We All Belong (the members used a twenty-four-track rather than the eight-track they used for 2005’s Easy Beat) but remain firmly entrenched in the sounds and styles of yesteryear, taking the cheery harmonies and round, plucky bass lines of the Beatles and the Beach Boys interpreting Motown soul. It’s an album of unassuming sincerity, but it never ascends beyond a certain (so what’s the) point.
The pieces are there to take the album beyond simple 1960s and ’70s homage and into an almost distracting re-creation, but the amalgam might be more intriguing were the influences less overt. This kind of nostalgia has been done better, whether through detached sarcasm (Guided by Voices) or not (Wondermints’ covers project, The Wonderful World of the Wondermints). If you’re mining sounds so obvious, it’s usually best to be open about it.
“Alaska,” a highlight here, less winks at the Band than nods vigorously at it. “Worst Trip” combines Burt Bacharach-ian horn swells, jagged guitar-chord vamps from the Age of Aquarius and a chorus lifted seemingly verbatim from the Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B.” The song epitomizes what works and what doesn’t for Dr. Dog. Building into a thrumming bass-line coda and a playfully delirious guitar break, the conclusion is stronger than all of its parts and all the better for the signposts it passes to get there.
It’s fun music if you don’t think too hard about it, and it’s undoubtedly better in a live setting. Singer Scott McMicken is a talented, if over-emotively raspy, singer and generally successful at toeing the line between sincerity and ham-handedness. But that doesn’t trump songs like “Die Die Die,” a faux-hymnal that even includes the barely veiled mimicry of the vocal line from the classic spiritual “Hush (Somebody’s Calling My Name).” Right.
Ultimately, We All Belong hints at the band’s innocuousness. Nothing here offends, but there’s nothing anywhere near compelling, either. It just kind of belongs.