Winston's Dog's self titled effort is an album that shows a band with tremendous potential. Almost every song on this disc has the chance of developing into a really solid, really great tune. Unfortunately, the band hasn't reached a state of maturation that allowed them to pull out a really bangin' effort.
And it's not that any particular song is bad, per se. Not at all- there are a number of really great songs on this album. I will admit that it took me at least 3 or 4 listens before I got into some of the more obscure and "harmonically creative" (some would even call them tuneless) songs. Winston's Dog plays with a lot of different sounds and genres, oftentimes sounding a lot like the Hives without the psychotically twitching lead singer.
Other than the struggling harmonies, one of the other things that bothers me about this disc is that the lead singer has trouble pushing forth the force he clearly wishes he had. He has a pretty good voice- nothing stellar by any means, but he can hold his own. However, he often reaches for soaring notes in choruses that he doesn't really have the power to hit out of the park.
Another complaint is that a few songs (Ditka in particular) are overly busy. It seems almost like there are 7 members in the band and they're all wailing discordantly on 3 instruments at once. You're pounded from all sides by a wall of guitars, each one sounding like it's trying to outdo the other. I feel anxious listening to songs like this- it's way too overwhelming.
There are some really amazing songs on this disc as well, though. "Parliament" is a personal favorite and a recent Song of the Week winner- it showcases the full potential of the band. I could never listen to this song once or twice- it needed to be at least a handful before I was sated. The sampled Pink Panther theme bass intro melts into a pulsating shrieking guitar that gives the song a sexy, dangerous feeling. "Snakeskin" is a great tune for in your car; it gives you the impression of roaring down a hot deserted road in a red convertible with the summer wind tousling your hair as waves of heat pour off the asphalt and create mirages on the horizon. "FFC" has a great bass line that slithers through the beat and the guitars set an ambient, almost eerie feeling to the song.
To me, the beginning of the album gives an impression of the band that they can't maintain in the final few tracks. "Pimp" bores me and "Bottuled" is tuneless and lackluster. Although I do admit, "Smile" is a nice poppy tune with an awesome singalong chorus that will be stuck in your head all day. And the abrupt ending is always a hit with me- nothing worse than an ending that trails off or doesn't come soon enough.
There isn't any particular track on this disc that I really dislike- each one is moderately good to excellent. But more of the songs on the album lean closer to the former than the latter. If every song on this disc had as much flavor and passion as "Parliament," this would be a 5/5. With time and some growth, this band could go very far.
I am surprised that I liked this CD as much as I do. The first few times I've heard Winston's Dog's tracks in our Listening Booth, I liked them, but there seemed to be something missing. Maybe it was Colin, psychotically posting everything in their vaults (love you C-Dog, mean it!!!) from early demo to on-the-fly practice bootleg. Maybe it was the other bands' offerings with a punchier delivery that seemed to make Winston's Dog's glow dull just a little bit, but after living with this CD for weeks I have to say, it was tough not giving them a 5/5. And again, I say, I am happily surprised.
The first song, Satchel Paige, is a strange mix between the powerchord hammer-ons made famous by the Ramones and a convincing Art Aleknenjneianeiaeaisis (whatever, I'm not looking it up!) from Everclear. It brings to mind the late 90's where Mike & The Mechanics and Tom Petty brought back the classic rock open road song. The lyrics circle like lazy turkey buzzards around the same set of notes and sometimes get on my nerves. I can't bring myself to dislike the song, though, I don't know why. It's like warming up when I don't want to exercise - I hate it, but when I'm most of the way through it, I start to feel better.
Sweet relief comes with FFC. The soothing massage of the bass helps me recover from track 1, but it doesn't last because again, we're stuck on the same notes in the rhythm guitar, whose mid is cranked and gives the clean, interesting lead guitar nothing but its dust to eat. Far too muddy, it takes away big time from the singer.
Bottuled has an incredible rolling, anxious drumbeat and a droning guitarline that reminds me of movies where the pressures of life or agonizing decisions finally start to take over the hero. It's an unmanifested rage captured at that moment where we've all been, where we drop our last defense and lose ourselves in the blind ocean of hate, drugs, pain, sadness or numb apathy. The more I listen to this song the more I am drawn to it. It's probably my favorite song on the CD.
Parliament and Snakeskin seemed to blend into each other, safe tunes, nothing really taking a chance. Again, there's the one guitar sitting high on the same note like almost every other song that I can't seem to get past. The tight reverb on the singer suits the mood they're going for, a 1970's rock band that wants so bad to be funk but has too much of a good time rolling along to stop and slap up the arrangement like a kid who's stolen money from his dad's wallet. In fact maybe there's a pet peeve - this band has skill, and they play it close to the vest, never inching a toe out of their comfort zone. I'd like to see them mosey up to the plate and hit a couple "What the Hell Were They Thinking" smokers out to the public.
There are some tracks on this CD that seem to be an extension of each other - Ditka mirrors the droning landscape of Bottuled but doesn't seem to evoke the same kind of response in me.
Although it may seem like I've given more criticisms than praise on this album, but I am quite pleased with it. I only have a few main points anyway: The band could benefit from a chunkier drum sound (the snare is high in the mix and kind of overpowers the kick) and a capo. Even going in another key would break up the too-similar method in each song. The beginning of the album bores me a little more and the last half of the album really got my attention. I happily lay a 4.5 at their feet.