For awhile during the mid-’80s, the BoDeans were one of the great bands in America. They seemed to have it all: a roof-raising live show, two distinctive lead singers and a skein of terrific songs spread across their first three records. From the acoustic-flavored, T. Bone Burnett-produced debut Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams to the harder rocking, Jerry Harrison-produced Outside Looking In to 1989’s Home with its amalgamation of the best of ’80s rock from Springsteen to U2.
But with 1991’s Black & White, produced by Prince protégé and Fine Young Cannibals producer David Z, the band took a disturbing turn towards middle of the road mediocrity. Similarly, their live shows of the ’90s often found them re-working some of their best rockers as moody ballads. It was almost as if success went to their heads and lead singers Kurt Neumann and Sammy Llanas became enamored of their own voices. The ’90s also included a reasonably successful attempt to recreate the magic of their first record on Go Slow Down, which featured “Closer to Free” (later the theme for Party Of Five) and a way too late in the game live record, 1995’s Joe Dirt Car.
So two years after the distinctively gravel-throated Llanas tried his hand at a solo project (Absinthe’s Good Day to Die), Neumann gets his turn on Shy Dog. Unfortunately, the record sounds more like the ’90s adult contemp version of the BoDeans than the rocking ’80s version. Singing in a pinched, nasally voice, Neumann plays all the instruments on the record. “Perfect Blue Sky” and “Like I Do” are catchy enough, if a bit unsubstantial. “Words” and “Fooling Myself” bring a little white-boy funk to the proceedings. The title track, about a favorite dog that died of a snakebite, begins with a bit of Edge-like guitar. “Absolution” manages to work up a bit of riffing, anthemic rock and roll steam but gets sunk by some dumb lyrics: “A day of absolution-it’s cool-yeah, now all is forgiven.” And “Breath Away” is an understated ballad that concludes the CD. But all of it amounts to little. Most of the record fails to make much of an impression. If you’re looking for background music, it’s unobtrusive enough. Just don’t think about turning it up loud.