Mine is hardly an enviable position - having missed the ruin, the spasmodic dysphonia of Dismemberment Plan’s first act because, well, I was, like, uh, nine. Ya dig? But I’m glad to have it - cuz I didn’t break from intermission expecting more of the same or further Change… or much of anything except, you know, music.
In fact, Dismemberment Plan’s catalog is probably the last of a certain variety for this millennial. What I mean is: a series of LPs I wasn’t alive or cognitive enough to take in in real time. For most of you, say, the Stones and Nirvana evolved musically over a span you can trace the cultural heft of. No doubt, in many cases, debuts like Exile on Main Street and Nevermind are plotted like events on whatever shape your brain synesthetizes into a timeline. For me? They’re just parts of a collection, compressed into a vacuum chronology: 1-2-3-4-5-6-etc… sure I can tell you something pretty weird happened between Help! and Rubber Soul, but don’t ask me the why, how, or who of the matter. Seriously - I have no idea. It’s a con job if I say otherwise.
Sofor me, this comeback could’ve been cut three days after 2001’s Change. In fact, I hadn’t heard that one til this week, either (though maybe that position is enviable, since I’m not yet convinced producing strings and estrogen is the best way to overcome existentially blue balls). Anyway, trust there’s no chance this record is my (bad, bad) Duke Nukem Forever or (glorious return!) I Hate Music. Based on what I’ve read so far, I may be the only one.
So let me also be the first to say: this music is fucking great. It features all the qualities you’d hope a snot ironist like Travis Morrison might develop or refine in the transition from wunderkind to rock-dad. For starters, the impossibly beautiful jerk-off rhythms of Terrified and (oh God, oh God, especially) Emergency now at least massage your shoulders first - though they’re still as alien as the weirdest junk you’ll find on, say, /\/\/\Y/\.
And while he’s done, mostly, with the pre-screamo vocal departures, his delivery (and the lyrics to match) is no less emotionally incisive. The undersexed yawls that punctuate the undersexed moue of “The Ice of Boston” aren’t possible for a guy who’s found conjugal contentment in “Lookin’,” the year’s sweetest love song sung in the voice you’d recognize from the first guy in your group of friends to get engaged:
Just like a painter returns to his muse
With his hands small, slow, and sure
Once he wanted to paint her naked
Now he only wants to paint her
Gone is the Mona Lisa
Mystery, and in its place
Is a love they know they can’t deny
Written all over her face
All over her face.
If you don’t sense even a little hehe-haha dick joke subtext in that otherwise gorgeous testimony of love all grown up, you aren’t paying attention. Though I can hardly blame you - the chorus is Morrison apologizing to the gal who’s too pretty to pay close attention to, which if you don’t recognize as meta-commentary on the beauty of the song itself, you - well, you get the idea.
Then he follows that up with “Daddy Was A Real Good Dancer,” probably the year’s saddest song - and one of its most complicated: as a celebration of rock’n’roll that’s also a lamentation of fatherhood and the best sorta eulogy he could think up for a father he never knew well enough. As we proceed through the tracklist we get a more apparent ode to rock’n’roll with a high modernist’s sense of allusion, a stirring anthem ready-made for any cause, and finally, “Let’s Just Go To The Dogs Tonight,” which finds a bunch of self-consciously old people painting the town (Chinatown, I bet, based on how it sounds) red with anachronisms and cringe-worthy efforts to sound young: “When I say cluster / You say fuck! / Cluster! / Fuck!”
He knew in advance he’s an aging dude playing to the wrong crowd, and that closer seems to me as wise and clever a “Fuck you punks and your 0.0” as we’re likely get out of anyone. But if that still isn’t enough of the sly Morrison of old winking just out of view, consider the emotional turbulence of the record’s last five tracks: love, death, reverence, anthem, awkward. Okay, so it takes five songs instead of one to cover that ground. He still penetrates deeper and weirder into the human condition than you do, kid. He’s still in total control of this relationship. But like all old guys, he’s learned that a slow hand is a better hand.