A People’s History of the Dismemberment Plan
fter ten years of guileless lyrics and some of the best live shows in rock and roll, the hardest-working band in emo business has finally called it quits. In January of this year, the Dismemberment Plan (bassist Eric Axelson, guitarist Jason Caddell, drummer Joe Easley and lead singer Travis Morrison) announced on their website that while the thrill was not yet gone, its bags were definitely packed and it was time to disband. A brief farewell tour was thrown together, which quickly mushroomed into an interminably long goodbye that had the band on the road all summer, criss-crossing the nation, playing in Japan, and finally wrapping on Labor Day in a fabulous, celebratory blow-out in their hometown of Washington DC.
But after nearly nine months of last farewells, it should come as no surprise that the Plan had one more love letter to deliver: A People’s History of the Dismemberment Plan, a 12-track remix compilation, created entirely by the band’s fans. A bit of back-story, for those with better things to do than compulsively track a rock band’s every move: in September of 2002, the band announced on its website that its next disc would be comprised entirely of fan-generated remixes of some of their best-loved songs. They then posted a slew of downloadable MP3s and links to remixing software, thus allowing anyone with a modem and a dream the chance to engage in a little musical re-vision-ism.
The end result is a hodge-podge of sounds that’s by turns thrilling, gratifying, and hideous. It’s fascinating to hear the band’s best songs filtered through the ears and knobs of their fans. However, unless you’re a mindless whore for all things Plan, you’re probably not going to run around your office or dorm screaming about this record, mostly because you wouldn’t know what to say. What do you say about a disc that is, like the Plan’s entire catalogue, so all over the map? “Compelling,” “disparate,” “kind of poopy sometimes” are all true, but not entirely accurate. A People’s History is fundamentally democratic – or rather, meritocratic, in that only the best mixes made the cut.
Cynyc’s “Following Through” takes most of the original’s manic energy and replaces it with what sounds like latter-day Poi Dog Pondering. What was a showcase of nerves gives way to a subdued melancholy, carried by the train-like percussion and the song’s melodic finale. When Morrison sings “It coulda been swell/it coulda been off the hook now/if we ever had what it took now/I haven’t a clue,” it sounds as though he’s moved on, with regrets but no bitterness.
“A Life of Possibilities,” remixed by Noise McCartney (Quruli’s Shigeru Kishida), sounded to my ears like nothing so much as an update of 10cc’s 1970’s classic “I’m Not in Love.” Kishida performs a radical song-ectomy, transforming a propulsive groove into a lush soundscape circa 1996. In this context, lyrics like “And no lights lead you onwards/no signs point you on your way/just earth in all directions/it’s endless, it’s mapless, no compass, no north star,” come off as a valentine to our distant friends, the rich, driving late at night on spiffy new infrastructure in their gorgeous Scandinavian cars.
Erik Gundel’s remix of “Superpowers,” is flat-out beautiful. In an interview in May, Morrison called this “the best utter hijacking and recontextualizing of the song. It sounds like John Denver.” James Taylor on ouzo and Xanax would be more like it. Gundel lays the original song’s lyrics over a foundation of the Faces’s “Ooh La La,” where they fit even better. Morrison’s voice, singing convoluted emo-lyrics like “I have felt such unreal pain and not known what to do, it isn’t mine/I have stayed awake for weeks and slept for days . . . not one dream,” is filled with weariness and resignation – the perfect coda to this disc and to the band’s career.
As with any remix comp, not every original gets the star treatment it deserves. Grandmaster Incongruous’s “Pay for the Piano,” featuring rhythm section samples from Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up,” is more mash-up than remix, and hence – as is often the case with that genre – more demo than song. ASCDI’s “Time Bomb” and Deadverse’s “Automatic,” while pleasant enough, are by-the-numbers Depeche Mode and Massive Attack, respectively. And Parae’s “Face of the Earth” is a silly, ponderous mess.
If you’re new to the Dismemberment Plan, A People’s History isn’t the disc for you; instead, go check out any of the band’s four studio discs (!, The Dismemberment Plan is Terrified, Emergency & I and Change) and learn what all the fuss was about. If you’re a long-time fan, then by all means get this disc. As much the band’s valediction to their fans as the fans’ swan song to their own community, A People’s History is a wonderfully eclectic goodbye – and thus, a little Dismemberment Plan all its own.
Reviewed by: Chris deMaagd
Reviewed on: 2003-10-08