Although I had friends who swore by them* and even went to see them in 1990, apart from a single or three, I only just started picking up The Dogs D’Amour records recently. Their 1989 10″ mini acoustic LP A Graveyard of Empty Bottles is my favourite by far and I only snagged it two years ago.
For the uninitiated you could describe the Dogs D’Amour as sleaze rock, I suppose but that really misses the point – a little like describing Pink Floyd as being a ‘bit of a prog band’. The word sleaze applied in the late 80’s context conjures up all manner of horribly glammed-up casualties, putting out slickly produced pop-songs-disguised-as-rock-songs; most of whom I loved dearly at the time and a few of whom I love bits of still. The Dogs D’Amour were different, they had a lot more depth, a lot more mystique, melancholy and intelligence and more, I won’t say soul, but you got the sense that they weren’t just affecting their gutter-level living they had been well marinated in it.
The music? well the Rolling Stones ’68-’72 is an obvious reference point, but there’s a bluesier element to them too on this album. Possibly the biggest influence over it all though wasn’t a musical one at all, but the poetic aesthetic of Charles Bukowski**; in fact lead chap Tyla used to bang on about him so much that I picked up my dad’s copy of Factotum, which blew my mind at age 17. It’s all in there, the gallows humour, the hopelessness that you have to keep at bay with a bottle, laughing to stop yourself from crying and the good intentions that ruin everything you ever attempt, destroy all your friendships and make the woman you love step over you without even looking down on her way out of the door with a younger, better man. When you can’t meet your own eyes in the mirror, shaving with a shaking hand, shot of rye in a dirty glass on top of the sink, then you know you’re there.
It’s all here in A Graveyard of Empty Bottles too.
As these things always do, it starts off all optimistic and sunny with the happy-go-lucky shuffle of ‘I Think It’s Love Again’, simply extolling the joys of being in that state, yet again. I love the sense in this song that however well-intentioned it all is, it’ll pass off so our protagonist will get to enjoy it all over again. I’m particularly taken with the, rather true, line,
Every man is an island
Every woman is a sea
Passing through ‘So Once Was I’, ruminating on how the young bucks will one day be haggard old drunks full of regrets like us we hit one of my faves here, ‘Comfort Of The Devil’. This is a damn good drinking song, set to a chugging acoustic drive, some tasteful harp and slide guitar. I like it because it’s about my favourite spirit^ and it’s a wry tale of playing Russian roulette with the devil.
I found myself in the comfort of the Southern again
Hell is coming to breakfast, you better make some space
The devil runs his fingers down the spine of fate
Grins at me with a smile that spells out hate
Spins his chamber of his gun
There’s only one soul loaded for fun
‘Saviour’ is a fine acoustic ballad, told from the point of view of pleading with someone to trust you so you can be their saviour despite all appearances/experiences to the contrary, the suspicion being that you need them more than they’ll ever need you. It’s that rarest of tricks, sincere and, hell, you know the whole Goddamn thing is doomed to a messy alcoholic failure anyway.
‘Errol Flynn’ is a rip-roaring, swaggering, buccaneering homage to, umm, swaggering buccaneers of old and by extension swaggering, sleazy, buccaneers in cowboy boots and silk shirts now. My joint favourite here, come on any song that references Lon Chaney has to be alright with me! it contains the great line ‘Just because you’re the good guy / Don’t mean you’ll win them all’ and later on ‘Just because I’m the bad guy / Doesn’t mean I’m gonna lose them all’. No wonder they exhumed this track to be the title track of their 1989 LP Errol Flynn. The insubstantial ‘When The Dream Has Gone’ is followed by ‘Angel’, a rumination on mortality and suicide with a twist and the closest A Graveyard of Empty Bottles gets to the normal, rockier Dogs D’Amour sound.
Acoustic LPs have become their own cliché these days and you get a lot of amp-heads paying them lip service, but what sets this LP aside for me is that the quality of the musicianship and their understanding of the variations you can get from such acoustica. The Dogs D’Amour in their prime were pretty formidable, Jo Dog was a hugely underrated guitarist I always thought, Steve James knew how to use his 4 strings to full effect, Tyla could certainly play his guitar and Bam was always a great drummer – he certainly was later on in The Wildhearts too.
But we head back again to Tyla for the real secret of what makes this band special for me. Not only his lyrics but his delivery is great, you have no doubt that these tales are all personal, the delivery is spot-on, emotional, involved, direct. Not only that but he was the artist behind all their fabulous art and lettering.
Great art, great songs, great lyrics, great musicians, good reviews (even in the non-metal press), A Graveyard of Empty Bottles hit #16 in the UK charts, how could Dogs D’Amour ever fail? well they did, we preferred all things slick and American it seemed and then booze, drugs and bickering took their toll and members started to drift off and the wheels just span without getting any traction. Damn shame I always thought.
If you haven’t already give A Graveyard of Empty Bottles a spin. It may surprise you, chances are it’ll entertain you for a short while and hell, there’s only 8 songs and only one is over 3 minutes long, go on, what’s to lose?
P.S: interesting to find out that the band, although only Tyla remains, revisited this in 2012. There are some interesting changes, mostly in Tyla’s voice which makes him sound like Tom Waits’ unruly cousin these days.
P.P.S: Attention Black Crowes fans, Burning Tree featuring future Crowes guitarist Marc Ford supported Dogs D’Amour when I saw them at Leeds University.
*and at the risk of being an indiscreet cad, I clearly remember them sound tracking at least one amorous encounter back in the day.
** In fact ‘Bullet Proof Poet’ on this LP, is properly titled ‘Bullet Proof Poet (For Charles Bukowski)’.
Southern Comfort, dummy! (I’m not manly enough for proper non-sugary spirits).