You know that painful feeling of embarrassment you get when someone tries to be insightful by incorporating education into a “groovy” routine? Like, when a teacher narrates American History via a rap? You just want to contort your body into the fetal position and die, which is an admittedly odd reaction since you’re not the one making a fool of yourself.
Such is the fate of Travis Morrison, ex-frontman for the much beloved Washington, D.C. emo outfit the Dismemberment Plan. Thankfully, Morrison doesn’t drop rhymes on his solo debut Travistan, but he’s that out-of-touch schoolmarm nonetheless. It happens early in “Change”, a twitchy rocker in search of a melody that recounts the stories of Moses: “He says, ‘Y’all coulda built a boat—if anybody had the guts—while I was up there talking to plants and growing my beard to my nuts!’”
I, for one, am flinching and running for cover beneath my gum-tagged desk. This is a record in unmerciful disarray. I’m talking the Bee Gees starring in Sgt. Pepper disarray. There should be a new section in record stores for that god-awful Sgt. Pepper movie, Joe Pesci’s Vincent Laguardia Gambini Sings Just for You, Jewel’s book of poetry, and Travistan. I’d really like to address Morrison’s album with more decorum and subtlety, but frankly, I’m left with no choice.
First offense: the proliferation of “Get Me Off This Coin” songs, short and clumsy presidential segues that pop up throughout the album like cockroaches. These lil’ tunes all share the same ungodly non-melody and faux-lounge jazz progression. Lincoln sez, “My mind is a terrible thing baby / But the guy you got now is a hack.” Cue the post-joke cymbal crash! Jefferson jokes, “I must have smoked a pound of Mary when they did that relief” and decides to “kick it at Monticello”. Isn’t learning fun, kids? Who’d like to kick it at Monticello for our upcoming field trip?
Second offense: stories and their supposed “lessons” that I could give a damn about. The karaoke stroll of “My Two Front Teeth, Parts 2 and 3”, in addition to omitting Part 1 for the sake of intrigue, documents a sustained ass-whipping. “The ladies all sigh when you tell ‘em how you didn’t fight back,” Morrison sings in a whine that has only gotten worse with age. “The whistling skills have improved, and I never did floss much.” Should I be laughing here or am I supposed to nod knowingly at the irony of it all? Nothing can really top the No Shit! factor of “People Die”: “People die, it’s the facts / So there, I said it, now you can relax.”
Throw up a little in your mouth yet? Third offense: the caged animal solidarity anthem “Song for the Orca”. Yes, yes, someday the wild animals will break free of their shackles and eat the zookeepers. I’m sure the alligator, lion, pitbull, python, and ape will all be happy that you mentioned them in your song. Perhaps when an alligator starts his own record label, you could be the first artist signed to the roster?
This is quite literally as disappointing as records get, made all the more so by Morrison’s solid resume with the Dismemberment Plan. If Travistan was a real place, I would strongly advise you not book a vacation there, or study abroad there, or even consider engaging in bi-lateral talks with its leader. Travistan is a colossal failure of the umpteenth degree; come to think of it, we’ll probably have to create a new degree simply to label it correctly.