On Second Thought: Mike Keneally Band – Dog (2004)

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I’m at that point in my fandom of guitarist Mike Keneally where I pretty much like everything he does. I’ve listened enough to his old albums and know enough about the man himself that my fandom has deepened into the kind of warmth I feel for people I consider “family,” whether related by blood or not.

So, there are times that I often recall more what I love about the person, or their music as the case may be here, than what I actually do like about whatever endeavor that person has taken on. I hate saying it, because it does feel like I’m ripping on a family member, but this Mike Keneally Band album has left me wanting. The real problem I have with it is that it’s half of a great album, at least time-wise, and the other half just kind of gets on my nerves.

The album starts off on a great note, with a lot of raw, minimalist rock-guitar type of music. It’s nothing shockingly new, but it’s done with such vigor that it’s a lot of fun to listen to. Of particular note are “Bober” and “Pride Is A Sin,” which have remained in my head the longest. Equally likeable and fun are the other tracks, up to about track No. 8 — “Choosing To Drown.”

I think I’m an adventurous listener — after all, I’ve bathed my ears in glorious cacophonous free-jazz — but Dog takes a serious turn for the sour with me at “Drown.” That’s where my frustration sets in: The track starts off as an angular oddity with a vocal line that runs counter to the direction of the song. And it annoys the hell out of me. What annoys me even more is that two and a half minutes into the song out blasts one of the catchiest, strongest riffs Keneally has ever played.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Mike Keneally talks with us about the lingering influences of Frank Zappa and XTC, and his magical introduction to prog through ‘Tarkus.’]

And then it’s over — back to obtuse weirdness, albeit lesser-so than that preceding that great set of riffs, less than 50 seconds later. I want MORE of that riffing. It sets up a yearning in me as a listener, but alas it is not to be. Perhaps, and I don’t want to say this, but perhaps Keneally simply couldn’t take it any further.

What follows is an odd, jazzy number in the form of “Gravity Grab.” On its own, this would be a fun little ditty, but sandwiched between “Drown” and the 15 minute freak-out “This Tastes Like A Hotel,” it really just helps destroy the second half of the album for me. “Hotel” pretty much completely turns me off — too long, too divergent, too little substance to keep me coming back for more. However, following the previous disjointed 20+ minutes of music is a cool, pseudo-bluesy creeper in the form of “Panda.”

Those with itchy trigger fingers are urged to skip directly to track 11. And really, reading back on that, it seems like there are minimal problems with the album, but that 23 minute chunk of stuff I don’t care very much for — right there in the middle of the running order — always ends up sucking the life out of an album I otherwise enjoy very much.

Perhaps it was a bid to win over less-adventurous listeners, because this music on this album (well, most of it, anyway) was without doubt the most simple of Keneally’s career. It was straight-up rock with unadorned singing and intelligent lyrics. And it worked beautifully. What might still scare listeners off is that curious dark spot in the heart of the album’s run-time, at a point where the listener has settled in for a good, long listen. When you’re enjoying a run of great songs, nothing is more disruptive than something that seems patently meant to show off the musician’s “weird” side. This was material that was best left to the bonus disc, something for the true die-hard fans to dig into, if they so choose.

What’s always made being a Keneally fan is that he always makes sure to reward loyal listeners, and for pre-orderers of Dog the case was no different: not only did we get the CD packed with a bonus DVD of various live footage, outtakes, etc., we also got a very cool extra CD containing another 30 or so minutes of various new pieces and live tracks.

Here’s where my frustration peaks: the “new” tracks on this bonus CD really deserved a spot on Dog. “Li’l” is an extended jam-like song that really, really should have been on the album in place of the meandering “Hotel.” It’s more fun and fits in with the rest of the album’s rock-oriented vibe than the jazzy musique-concrete approach of “Hotel.” I’m still quite perplexed, in fact, as to why “Li’l” isn’t on the album. “Party Poopers” is just a fun little bit of oddness — but that’s the thing, it’s fun. That second half of Dog was seriously in need of fun.

“Sun Flute” is another non-album track, appearing here in basically demo form. Fleshed out in the studio, it might have made a beautiful addition to Dog, but instead it’s left behind. In between are some funny “radio” snippets of Keneally himself and a few exuberant live tracks. I’m really sad to say it, but this bonus disc, named Pup, makes a more compelling listen than the album that spawned it.

It’s a shame because, the impression left by “side two” of Dog might not be such a positive one that a tentative listener would want to investigate further into Keneally’s career. They should. Keneally’s back catalog, what’s still available of it anyway, is chock-full of choice nuggets of beauty and fun. Hopefully, the oddness of Dog won’t turn off the new potential fans who stumble upon it.

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Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson has contributed to Blogcritics, and maintained a series of stand-alone sites including Known Johnson, Everything is a Mess and others. He studied both creative writing and then studio art at Arizona State. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Tom Johnson
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