Meet Me in the Middle: Remembering The Format’s Dog Problems - Ten Years Later
Recently, there was a thread that came across my Facebook feed that posed the question “What’s the one album you had wished you written?” Scattered answers ranging from Kid A to The Suburbs littered the comments section, and for good reason, sure. But without much hesitation at all, I commented with The Format’s 2006 gem Dog Problems and moved on with my mindless scrolling. Dog Problems, which turns 10 years old this summer, is one of my favorite records ever, and one that’s followed me well into adulthood. It’s an album of bubbly heartbreak, sporadic frustration, and orchestrated whimsy few records accomplish with such happy-go-lucky charm. Bombastic vocals, daring arrangements, and occasional lyrical knife-twists made it all the more memorable. Of all places, I discovered them through MySpace and, of all bands, saw them tour in support of The All-American Rejects.
I unapologetically adore all things pop — particularly its brash, sweeping melodies that get tastily stuck to the inside of your jaw like a movie theater box of Dots. There’s a predisposition that pop — in modern terms, at least — means mindless, soulless, pitch-corrected, calculated records whose sole purpose is to be featured in CoverGirl commercials and sent to VH1’s We-Love-The-Whatevers oblivion. That’s fair, sure; but pop’s main purpose, to me, is to express not only the songwriter’s emotions — but the listener’s, as well. I think Billy Joel said that.
A great pop song is a time-capsule containing memories of the summer you went to the lake with that girl from youth group and her family, or that time you sat in your room with your ears buzzing with rage and hurt because you found out your best friend’s been seeing your crush behind your back. Lots and lots of albums can do this for a person, obviously, but when the timing is just right — it can act as a bookmark for a season (or a year, even) and that’s what makes music that much more special.
The Format, and Dog Problems as a whole, embodies this for me. Together, duo Nate Ruess (now of fun. fame) and Sam Means (perhaps the brains behind the operation, and who just put out his first effort since The Format this past January-it’s really good) crafted an album that shone from the rest of the PureVolume sludge a decade ago. From open to close, Dog Problems is thematically focused on a shattered relationship in which our protagonist is cheated on, with each song detailing his subsequent failed attempts to move on — i.e. sweeping, power-pop-genius singles like “She Doesn’t Get It” and my favorite track, “The Compromise.” However, when the album is split in half with the eponymous ballad “Dog Problems”, an almost carnivalesque journey waltzes usthrough a haunted, hurt mind and a heart full of trombones and horns. It’s weird. It’s broad. Dog Problems is a glitter-filled hourglass
Impeccably produced by Steven McDonald (who later went on to produce fun.’s 2009 debut Aim & Ignite), Dog Problems has a timeless aspect that unfortunately isn’t afforded to many of Nate Ruess’ more recent efforts (save for “Some Nights”), but that’s neither here nor there. The Format’s two-album career was an inspiring one; it brought about a resurgence of cinematic, orchestrated, pop/rock music that almost fell by the wayside in the late 90s but is now resurging in a huge way. With such precision, these big horns and loud strings scored teenagers’ bedrooms and, in effect, their lives.