When I was a young pup, my father used to take us on these quasi-camping trips. I say “quasi” because it wasn’t as if we lived off the land for three days, eating questionable berries and letting our bowels sort them out. If there was a provision that was in any way portable, we had it. I think one year we bought an honest-to-God television set. Yes, my family “camped” in the same way Nickelback “rocks.” So then, why go camping at all? Is it possible that we wanted to take an excursion into a foreign and uncharted territory but needed to retain some semblance of the life we were leaving behind in order to make the transition less scary? Is this why we camped four feet or less from our Dodge Caravan, so that when things got a little weird we could bask in the comforting shadow of the minivan and know that if we really wanted to, we could hightail it to a Holiday Inn before the fire even died down?
“Where is this going?”
Good question. Upon listening to The Dogs’ album Camping, I was struck with a similar feeling: This is a band with a lot of ideas, to be sure. However, this is also a band that is smart enough to know that fans will be a lot more receptive to said ideas if they are wrapped in the comforting overcoat of conventional pop hooks. After all, it’s one thing to claim you’re into new ideas in your pop music. It’s quite another to actually be into new ideas. Me, I like pop music. If I wanted to listen to Sun Ra, I’d do that. That’s the beauty of Camping: every time the desire to innovate seems to stretch too far from the familiar, whether it be the brief interlude of free-jazz dissonance in a song like “All is Forgiven,” or the electro-beats and orchestral undertones of “On the Highway (Come to See You),” The Dogs pull it back to something more conventional without it feeling forced. In doing this, they can have it both ways. They have an album here that is challenging and unravels itself upon repeat listening, but also doesn’t feel alien upon entry. In short, a camping trip with an electric stove. My favorite kind.
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