I'll never forget listening to Emergency & I for the first time. I had heard so many things about The Dismemberment Plan, but never actually had the chance to check them out. But one night I found myself drawn to their official website like a Calvin Klein perfume commercial, except with less cleavage. I was enthusiastic to a disproportionate degree (happy) to discover Emergency & I available in Real Audio format. From the first notes of "A Life Of Possibilities", I knew I struck gold; and in the next coming months, I would eat, sleep, and drink The Dismemberment Plan. I could not escape the fusion of post-punk, new wave, hip-hop, R&B, and funk that capsulated each and every song. I could not escape the storytelling lyrics and the rambunctious basslines. Everything from the quirky inventive vocal trademarks of Travis Morrison, to the dissonant chords and oddball time signatures, The Dismemberment Plan had me, by all means, whipped -- and boy did I love it.
Now, when listening to their latest effort Change, I realized two important things. The first realization came by the middle of the second song "The Face of the Earth". Even though we were warned with quotes like "a record of trailing thoughts and ellipses" and "sophisticated and musical" (not to mention the album title), I never once believed that the shift in style could or would be so dramatic. I mean, it's obvious that Travis is singing, Eric is playing bass, Joe is playing drums, and Jason is playing guitar; but it's not obvious that the music is actually theirs. It sounds as if D-Plan were covering a whole bunch of unknown artists, adding their unique lemon twist.
But in actuality, the D-Plan are no cover band. As the album neared completion, it became increasingly apparent as to how much they changed. It felt like I was hearing a totally different band -- and in many ways I was. That's when my second realization began to mold. I figured the only way I could start enjoying this album is if I stopped looking for characteristics of the old D-Plan.
I did just that for the next 10, or so, listens. And while the album has definitely grown on me since then, there is no chance that it can come close to the effect of their previous two albums. The thing I used to value most about Dismemberment Plan was the fact that it was nearly impossible to pigeonhole them. Trying to describe their unique music in a word or two was like saying The Beatles' contribution to music was helpful. There was really no band that sounded like them; they were unique in their own manic sort of way. Now it's a little easier to draw comparisons and influences. But overall, the music is still very unique.
One of the first things I noticed about the album was the emphasis on creating a mood, rather than the "in-your-fucking-face!" attitude of previous releases. The music is subdued and more drawn out, leaving room for the music to breathe. Less lyrics and more instrumental sections give the album a balanced feel. But underneath the spacey guitars and hypnotic rhythms, lie the same post-punk attitude that took shape back in 1995's exclamatory album.
Some songs work well and some songs lack an edge. "Secret Curse" is a strange mess of noise, while "Pay for the Piano" sounds like a really cheesy Foo Fighters b-side. But the greater moments of the album make up for the few weak spots. The aforementioned "The Face of the Earth" and the almost Green Day-esque "Following Through" are obvious strengths of the album. "Come Home" is one their most lush work to date with great lyrics: "I'd rather be happy than right this time". And "The Other Side" may be one of the most interesting D-Plan songs ever written, sporting volatile drumming and catchy lyrics. It seems the album's strengths are the songs that sound the most unique from their earlier works.
This album makes me happy and sad at the same time. Happy because respect is due for a band that has the gall bladders to try something different. They knew that they could have ruled the world (well, at least a good chunk) by releasing Emergency & I Part Deux, but instead, they opted to release a reflective record to see what everyone (including themselves) thought of it. On the other hand, it made me sad that the D-Plan from the past is doing just that -- staying in the past. Whether it's temporary or not, I already miss the old D-Plan. But I guess they've already proven themselves with a similar formula on three post-punk classics; it's now 2001, and the boys have matured. This album feels and sounds natural, and why stick to the sounds of the three previous albums just to stick with the same formula? It was a perfect time to try something different and they passed with extended middle fingers.
1. Sentimental Man
2. The Face of the Earth
4. Pay For the Piano
5. Come Home
6. Secret Curse
8. Following Through
9. Time Bomb
10. The Other Side
11. Ellen & Ben