Every now and then a song will stop you dead in your tracks; Shiny Armour, squirrelled away towards the end of Dog Trumpet’s sixth release, is one of those songs. A simple chord progression backed with weeping slide guitar gives way to a slow waltz. It’s the story of a man returning from distant battles only to find his girl couldn’t wait, and went off with someone else. There’s nothing too tricky going on, it’s just a brilliantly composed pop song with delicate, yearning melodies of loneliness that slip away far too soon.
Dog Trumpet started as a low-key side project for brothers Reg Mombassa (Chris O’Doherty) and Pete O’Doherty in 1990 when their main band – Mental as Anything – went on a short hiatus. A decade later, they’d both left the Mentals and the side project was now the main band. Both have enormously successful artist day jobs, so Dog Trumpet albums arrive unhurried and unburdened by any need to prove anything. As such, Medicated Spirits sounds like it could have been released any time over the last 30 years, and even though it skips all over the genre map, it is a rarity – a complete sounding double album with no filler.
Part of it is simple mechanics; the album is bookended by a pair of lush instrumentals. It starts
joyously with Elizabethan which sounds like Richard Thompson slowing down just a tiny bit and forgoing the complicated chords. Over an hour later it closes with Aqualine, a tumbling slide guitarinfusedprog-pop nugget. Though not exactly an exclamation mark, there’s an air of satisfied conclusion about it, knowing full well the circle has been completed.
Of course, if you choose to pick and choose album tracks, you might notice Medicated Spirits resembles a cult radio station playing vaguely familiar but totally unknown gems. There’s languid scuzzed-up summer pop (Speed of Light), light and fresh bucolic psych (Moon and Star), off-kilter folk (Tell Me), and light country (Telegraph Pole, With Good Reason). Oddly, the only song that really sounds explicitly like their previous band – the chugging Camel Rock – was written and sung by Bernie Hayes. The common denominator throughout it all, regardless of overt musical styling, is that every track brims with classic power pop melodies and offbeat tweaks. Then there’s Reg Mombassa’s elegiac slide playing, which can rattle between the heartbreaking – as above, Shiny Armour – and driving blues (Penal Colony). Without a doubt, one of the most underrated guitarists in the country.
Lyrically, the O’Doherty brothers aren’t exactly strangers to quirk. But don’t make the mistake that many have before of assuming that clever puns and cunning rhymes aren’t masking anything deeper, that it’s just funny imagery. Even an overtly politically themed songs like With Good Reason, full of modern anxieties (war, climate change, imperialism) can sound like a breezy Saturday afternoon amble.
Medicated Spirits is eclectic, but often that word is proxy for occasional good ideas buried amongst barely refined demos and a scattershot approach to songwriting that is jarring. But this
sort of eclecticism is a pair of seasoned songwriters fashioning a bunch of songs cut from the same cloth, that still manage to sound completely different. It’s also an album of confident relaxation, stretching out with friends (Amanda Brown, Iain Shedden, Bernie Hayes) and family (Declan O’Doherty) but not wasting anyone’s time. Amazingly, in 2013 Dog Trumpet has released an industry-defying double album of fully realised and outrageously catchy songs, that stakes a
serious claim for the year’s best. It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of musicians.
Dog Trumpet heading to SXSW
We're excited to announce that Dog Trumpet have been invited to play SXSW in Austin in March. We'll then head to Canada to promote the album. Combine this with our nomination for The Amp 'Album of the Year' and 2014 is shaping up to be a great year. Thanks for your continued support - Reg & PeteMedicated Spirits nominated for AMP Australian Album of the Year !