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Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2001

HIGH NOTES

Dismemberment Plan: 'Change'


Travis Morrison sings as if words are pouring into his mouth faster than he can spit them out. On the first three albums from his band Dismemberment Plan, the lyrics shifted between self-deprecating irony and plain old self-deprecation. What Morrison was saying was honest and unsentimental, but there was something about the way the lines were slammed up against the off-kilter punk arrangements that made it seem as if he was trying too hard to be meaningful.

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On Dismemberment Plan's new album, appropriately titled "Change," Morrison just lets the words flow, often with no regard for coherence. And, like those other great logorrhea lyricists -- Dylan and the other two Morrisons, Van and the late Jim -- an occasional nugget of brilliance hits you square between the eyes, turning an entire song into an epiphany in an instant. "I'd rather be happy than right," he says on "Come Home," a song about a guy who calls in sick to work, apparently too preoccupied with the departure of a lover to "get a damned thing done." As preoccupation turns to babbling obsession, the music swirls into a guitar onslaught that seems to be splitting the guy's skull.

Though not as bracingly aggressive as their previous album, "Emergency & I" (1999), which earned the Washington, D.C. quartet a gig opening for Pearl Jam on their last European tour, "Change" is sufficiently tense and for the most part up-tempo to qualify as punk. This is even though the key signatures shift with the wind, and the drummer appears to be auditioning for a slot on the next Weather Report album. As writers and arrangers, the band moves fitfully between the experimental pop of Todd Rundgren and the dirty guitar rock of The Yardbirds, often in the same cut. Just when you think you've settled into a song's particular groove, it changes gears, which is probably why the adjective most commonly used to describe the band is "hyperactive," which suggests lack of control and focus. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The Plan's plan isn't so much deconstructing pop as it is dismembering punk, and the constituent elements turn out to be as compelling and thrilling as the whole, especially considering how hackneyed the form has become recently. "Change" will do you good.



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