THERE are few rock groups whose work can be explained without comparisons to other groups, and 4 Out of 5 Doctors is no exception. For them, things start with the Beatles and move down power pop's family tree -- the Raspberries and Steely Dan in the mid '70s, and more recent branches like the Records, Bram Tchaikovsky and the Cars. But as the Doctors' Cal Everett says, "We're influenced just because we grew up when we did. Obviously we couldn't ignore what was happening on the radio. We didn't close everything out for years."
The Doctors have synthesized their various influences without being burdened by them. In tying together '60s and '70s styles, they have achieved a very direct power pop: rock with striking guitar textures, airy harmonies and an upbeat commercialism. "Four Out of Five Doctors" (Nemperor NJZ36575, a bonus $5.98 list price album) also has a muscularity and ambitious lyricism that puts it far beyond most of what's been released in the last year. If it fails, it will be a reflection on the business, not the band.
There are at least five strong potential singles on this album, ranging from the pop anthem, "Modern Man," to the quirky little melodic riff that builds into "I Want Her." The other top-notch cuts are "Jeff, Jeff" (in which bassist Everett displays a vinyl equivalent to the McCartney manner that is so winning in performance), and the insidiously catchy melodies of "Waiting for a Change" and "Opus 10." In these songs, and throughout the album, the Doctors vary tempi and dynamics with a flawless judgment. There are no heavy extended instrumentals; the band's mix of traditional rock guitar and New Wave-style keyboard work is cogent and concise. Melodies weave and turn in on themselves, sometimes catching the listener offguard; the songs are short, resonant, filtered through the New-Wave upheaval of the last three years but not obscured by it. Allen Winstanley's production throughout is fundamentally sound, with few intrusions on the Doctors' practiced sensibilities.
The weaker songs include: "Danger Man," powerful live but reduced here to a cloying cleverness in its musical and verbal homages to action music; and "I'm Not From Her World," which overstates the conflict between what filmmaker John Korty once refered to as "the illusionless man the visionary maid," translated here to a revolutionary and a consumer. "Mr. Cool Shoes" is a too-easy mix of Elvis Costello and the Eagles, while "New Wave Girls" brings to mind the Records. The vocal assets of the band extend from Everett's charming refinement to some ensemble work that is almost choral in its strength.
"4 Out of 5 Doctors" is a shimmering assemblage of pop melodies seamlessly delivered by a band that has built up enough memorable books to hang a dozen careers on. Paced by lead singer Everett and propelled by Tom Ballew's crisp drumming and the instrumental acumen of Jeff Severson and George Pittaway, these Doctors have their fingers on the pulse of rock music.