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Respect Is Overdue

 

The Dismemberment Plan: Change

Desoto, 2001

Rating: 4.5

 

 

Posted: November 3, 2001

By Laurence Station

"There is no Heaven and there's no Hell," intones Dismemberment Plan frontman/chief lyricist Travis Morrison, thus opening Change, the latest long player salvo from Washington, D.C.'s most exciting and forward-thinking band. During the album's initial cut,  "Sentimental Man," Morrison goes on to explain that he's an "Old Testament kind of guy," and despite such contradictory logic, we believe every word because of the conviction with which he wrestles such thorny, existential issues.

The Plan has never sounded so focused, so sure of its ability to explore the deeper truths lurking beneath the most mundane aspects of everyday life. "Come Home," the centerpiece of Change, deftly conveys a quiet sense of desperation associated with a person sitting at home, waiting for a lover to return that the song makes painfully clear, never will. The final cut, "Ellen and Ben," presents a gossipy story told from the point of view of a character watching two friends become a couple, thus irrevocably destroying the bonds all three shared.

Simple tales all, yet in the hands of Morrison and his three counterparts (guitarist Jason Caddell, bassist Eric Axelson and drummer Joe Easley), such little revelations take on a deeper resonance, certainly far more satisfying and thought-provoking than prior Plan efforts. On 1999's Emergency & I, Morrison sings of a Memory Machine that quite literally will "wax our hearts to a blinding sheen to wash away the grief." By comparison, on Change's second track, "The Face of the Earth," a man kisses a girl and then watches as she's inexplicably sucked from the planet's surface, hurtling away from him at incredible speed. Yet the wordplay imparts a deeper meaning, and illuminates a more mature Plan in turn, by expressing the mixed feelings involved in grieving for someone he's only known a short time. Having a person get blown from the face of the earth might be an extreme analogy, but it wonderfully captures the ambiguity of new, underdeveloped relationships that fail to pan out, or are snuffed out by unexpected tragedy before attaining a higher degree of intimacy and trust.

Being the most contemplative of all Plan releases, Change may frighten away fans of the band's earlier, more hyper-kinetic work. Fear not, dedicated spaz-rock followers, Dismemberment Plan has not forgotten you. Tracks like "Pay for the Piano" and the brilliantly executed "Time Bomb" cater to those partial to the Plan at its most rock-oriented. Overall the bizarre time signatures and erratic tempo changes the band is known for have been toned down in favor of a more balanced, cohesive and satisfyingly streamlined sound.

That said, the album is not without its missteps. "Automatic" borrows a little too heavily from earlier efforts, like Emergency & I's "The Jitters" and, to a lesser degree, 1997's The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified's masterful closing epic "Respect is Due." What ultimately elevates Change to one of the year's best releases (and easily the Plan's finest work to date), however, is the maturity of the band's musicianship (evident throughout), and Morrison's insightful, fresh, and always-surprising lyricism.

Change may not always be easy, but, in this instance, it most definitely turns out for the better.

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 Ratings Key:
 5.0: A classic
 4.0-4.9: Stellar work
 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
 2.0-2.9: Nothing special
 1.1-1.9: Pretty bad
 0.0-1.0: Total disaster

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