This Old Dog review – ‘Convincing signs of newfound maturity’

Ollie Webb reflects on 'one of the best albums of 2017' - Mac DeMarco’s 'This Old Dog', which explores themes of old age and his relationship with his father.

May 2017 – the month in which Prince Philip announced he was going to retire from royal duties, the dreaded exam season was once again underway, and more importantly, Mac DeMarco gifted us with the release of his long-awaited album This Old Dog, which I now consider one of the best albums of 2017.

With the music scene cluttered with more and more redefinitions of artists’ musical styles, a radical shake-up of his winning soft rock formula would prove unfruitful for DeMarco; in other words, he has mastered his style, and his fans love it.

A common theme that runs through the album is growing up and old age. Debatably his most popular track to date, ‘Salad Days’, scratches the surface of this (“As I’m getting older, chip up on my shoulder / Rolling through life, to roll over and die”), but in this latest record, it seems as if these ideas have consumed him. The first two teaser tracks from the new album were the title track ‘This Old Dog’ and ‘My Old Man’, both of which are much more introspective than usual, so fans could gauge that this record would feature a side of DeMarco that has not yet been explored before at this depth.

‘On the Level’, although often dubbed as the sister track to ‘Chamber of Reflection’ due to the unsteady, synth-heavy plodding they share, delves deeper into his personal life. While ‘Chamber of Reflection’ is centred on seclusion, ‘On the Level’ places his own life under scrutiny, as he is echoing his absent father’s words (“Make an old man proud of you”, “Who’s there left to blame?”). This is starkly contrasted by ‘One Another’ which conveys a light-hearted ‘everybody makes mistakes’ message accompanied by tuneful, syncopated guitar licks.

The penultimate track on the album, ‘Moonlight on the River’, is possibly the most obscure, as perfectly blended, plush chords slowly transform into an abrasive, curdling echo chamber of sounds from effect pedals. While this would be a poignant ending to the album, DeMarco’s most affecting, sincere song to date, ‘Watching Him Fade Away’ serves as the conclusion. The tenderness of the song juxtaposes the rockiness of his relationship with his father, as he lets go of something he never truly had in the first place.

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The album tackles heartfelt issues, therefore listeners expecting feel-good tracks like ‘Freaking Out the Neighbourhood’ may be left feeling unfulfilled. However, having seen him in London recently light his nipple hair on fire on stage, it is evident that DeMarco is nowhere near to letting the jocular side of him go, despite his music showing convincing signs of newfound maturity.