‘Bark Your Head Off, Dog’ moves Hop Along forward in a bold new direction.
Label: Saddle Creek
Released: 6th April 2018
While Hop Along ostensibly started life as a solo project in 2004 – and for three albums Frances Quinlan’s lyrics and vocals have been the undoubted star of the show – ‘Bark Your Head Off, Dog’ sees the music take equal billing – and the result is a mixed bag that intrigues, excites and frustrates in equal measure.
Naturally, Quinlan still sounds incredible; the throbbing heartbeat to ‘Bark Your Head Off, Dog’’s tales (tails..?) of power and the misuse of power. She remains an entirely peerless vocalist and lyricist and a unique tour de force – ‘Bark Your Head Off, Dog’ is primetime Quinlan.
Yet it is also a much more ambitious album musically, drawing on a far wider range of sounds and textures compared to 2012’s ‘Get Disowned’ or 2015’s ‘Painted Shut’. On the one hand, it sounds fantastic – cuts like ‘One That Suits Me’ and ‘How Simple’ zip with verve – but it also feels overly busy, with the layers of orchestration taking attention away from Quinlan’s stories. The result is a glitzy new look that is, in places, just a little too dazzling. A case in point is ‘Somewhere A Judge’, which twists an enjoyable pop song into a complicated, percussion-heavy, mess.
There is still magic there – even if it doesn’t quite match the jaw-dropping brilliance of ‘Painted Shut. The driving indie-pop of ‘The Fox In Motion’ might be one of the group’s best songs to date, proving that this desire for a broader sound is well-merited – and hugely exciting when achieved, while ‘Prior Things’ sees Quinlan at her dervish-like best, breathlessly running through the song at a canter.
Ultimately, ‘Bark Your Head Off, Dog’ moves Hop Along forward in a bold new direction, throwing up confident and striking arrangements along the way. To do so, however, it meant trading in the stripped back soul and raw emotion of their previous output. It’s a decision that just about pays off. Rob Mair