By: Eric Greenwood
I really didn't want to hate this record, especially after all the hyperbolic negative hype. I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt because, well, Travis Morrison made some damn good records in his stint with The Dismemberment Plan (most notably 1999's tour de force, Emergency and I), but, God, this is just an awful display of gratuitous self-indulgence. Travis Morrison has clearly lost his mind.
In The Dismemberment Plan, Morrison's sometimes-cheesy musings were couched by either some spastic time-change or a flit of electronics that made his embarrassing uncle humor more palatable. Now that he's all by himself, his voice sounds completely naked and his ghastly lyrics have an unprecedented spotlight.
Without The Dismemberment Plan's Wall of Voodoo-meets-Talking Heads twist on college rock, Travis Morrison is kind of a goon. In this ill-fated attempt at folksy storytelling, Morrison's hokey, do-gooder, choirboy voice sounds sorely out of context. It skips right over indie nerd charm and lands squarely in the shit pile.
The four scattered "Get Me Off This Coin" interludes are gooberish alternative history lessons with Morrison's lispy lilt playing a guess the President game. One of these cringe-inducing interludes might be passable but by the third, when that chirpy, do-de-do guitar theme starts, I'm ready to break out my bag of hammers.
Your head would have to be so far up your own ass to think that songs like "My Two Front Teeth, Parts 2 and 3" and "People Die" were worthy of public consumption. Lyrically, Morrison drops lines that smell so bad you can't help but blush out of vicarious embarrassment. And everyone knows there's no worse feeling than being embarrassed for someone else. It can't be that bad? The chorus of the former song is "all I want for Christmas is my two front teeth."
The irony is that Morrison's lyrics were the most daring aspect of The Dismemberment Plan's hyper-kinetic rock, especially on the band's swan song album, 2002's moody and affecting Change. His wordy stories were often clunky and too honest, but they had an unmistakable charm and his melodic gifts always elevated his lyrical gaffes. Here, Morrison's trying so hard to recapture that charisma that it backfires. It's like he's overcompensating for losing his experimental backing band, and there's not a memorable melody to be found.
The Dismemberment Plan's urgency leveled out Morrison's masculinity, and as a solo artist he sounds effete and deflated. Travistan employs dilettantish hints of funk, soul, indie rock, jangly pop, and folksy storytelling, but for as many ideas as Morrison seems to have, the album feels flat and unfinished. There's no spark or flow. It's a confusing dead-end road full of tone-deaf humor and sorely misplaced erudition.