It’s been a while since I’ve written an album review but lately I’ve had a growing compulsion to write one for Bent Outta Shape’s Stray Dog Town, if only to bring it some attention I think it deserves. Sitting down to actually write, however, my convictions I thought were clear before now feel vague, struggling to translate coherently. What can I say about Stray Dog Town?
That it’s a 2005 punk/rock album, reminiscent of The Replacements at times, which absolutely rocks? Yes, but the reasons this album resonates so strongly with me go beyond its mere surface qualities. Yeah, this is one of those
albums for me. But even trying to remain as objective as possible, Stray Dog Town is undoubtedly a strong album. I mean, these are well written, fully realized songs played by a band giving it their all, and worth checking out for anyone who is remotely into gritty, anthemic punk rock.
Bent Outta Shape play an honest, stripped down brand of punk rock. Stray Dog Town, their only LP, is comprised of eleven raw but accessible, melodic songs. There is a certain genuineness giving Stray Dog Town its charm; the urgency in the vocals, at times bordering on desperation, as if suggesting these songs just had
to be sung. It was the driving melodies, the frantic guitars and shout-along choruses which endeared me to the record initially, but what had me coming back was how relatable it felt; the passion, the introspection, the notions of insecurity and aimlessness countered by the assurance that these songs would make things better, if only for a while. A paradoxical sense of community and alienation permeates the record, but it is the former which prevails in what is a testament to music’s ability to alleviate feelings of isolation, confusion or frustration. These sentiments are perhaps best captured in the closer ‘Backwash’, as frontman Jamie Ewing sings ““we may not be the best of friends, but I feel good in this room, because I know that we’re all coming from the same place”.
On the whole Stray Dog Town is a pretty straight-forward album but there is enough variation in the song writing to keep it from sounding anywhere near repetitive or dull. Most of the songs are brimming with energy and do not overstay their welcome, but Bent Outta Shape can pull off lengthy numbers without sacrificing momentum when they want to (the title track is over six and a half minutes). And although Stray Dog Town is a mostly energetic affair, songs like 'Solitary Now' and the fantastic 'Rudes & Cheaps' offer slightly restrained approaches to contrast the album’s more raucous qualities by bringing the tempo down just a notch. Basically, whatever style Bent Outta Shape decides to go with, rowdy or subdued, drawn out or succinct, they do so successfully.
I was well acquainted with Stray Dog Town when, curious to learn more about the band and read others' thoughts on the album, I searched them up only to discover that vocalist and guitarist Jamie Ewing had passed away. Maybe it had something to do with us being around the same age but my next listen to Stray Dog Town felt a little different. It still rocked of course, but more poignantly, as if certain themes were accentuated. Lines like “You can get away with anything when you’re young!” hit a little harder and “I just want to be in your company!” made me feel more appreciative of the people close to me, while serving as a reminder that it is often easy to lose sight of these things. This might sound a bit trite and sentimental to some, and maybe it is. A lot of my favorite music is wrapped up in these kind of concepts, and I’m sure I’m not alone there. I am also sure that even if I take away the contemplative stuff I mentioned, Bent Outta Shape’s Stray Dog Town is a damn good album, one of the most impressive I’ve heard, and I’m glad I found it.