How do you put up with the indie scene (Sorry so abrupt but I’ve got a word limit)? You’ve done so much to make it worthwhile and it seems like all you get is shit. The D-Plan were the rare band that made me think that the mainstream was actually missing out: charming, intelligent, a full-bodied musical attack with a specific but accessible lyrical perspective. I cracked up when people ripped at you for liking John Mayer: he may have a corny rasp and an unconscionable Stevie Ray Vaughn jones, but you both come off like Police fans who (thankfully) learned humility and amiability from early Tom Hanks comedies; wasp cuties who want to learn (and share) as much about life as possible while keeping your karma clean. The best tracks on his Heavier Things (specifically “Bigger Than My Body” and “Home Life”, in case you haven’t already checked them out) sounded like Change might have if Jack Joseph Puig was behind the board. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised people didn’t see the connection. Why would they want to?
You followed your band’s break-up by releasing an acoustic Ludacris cover. I think it’s a hoot, but I guess some fans felt you were cheapening yourself or something. They got mad. Really mad. That kind of humorless, unsympathetic Puritanism got even more lethal when you came out as kinda pro-war. I didn’t agree with everything you wrote on your site but I could follow your logic enough that I was disappointed to see people treat you like you were stupid or (haha) evil. I’d rather hear a unique and thought-out take that wasn’t my own then have somebody just jerk their knee and pick a side. Still, it was clear that folks were starting to question whether you were all they thought you were. Me, it reaffirmed that you were a smart, funny guy worth paying attention to: somebody who might surprise me and open my mind a little.
Though the buzz was all “diminishing returns”, “worthless failure”, and “he’s dead to me”, Travistan does plenty to reaffirm that take. “Born In ‘72” is the anthem white “nice guys” like you, Mayer and I have been needing for a while: a modest plea for sympathy that acknowledges the tribulations of the less privileged. It’s playful and genuine where most would come off either earnest or whiny (“I’m a thankful man, but I still don’t do all the things I can. Some call it guilt, I say fear; both are queer”).
There’s somebody I know whose perspective re: their family sounds so much like the one you describe on “Any Open Door” (“They cannot tell trapped from sticking together”) that I’m dying to get a copy to them even though we’re not really talking these days. It might make them feel less confused about it, you know? I mean that’s why you wrote “People Die”. That song reminds me of the Talking Heads circa Naked. Like David Byrne you have this detached way of trying to confront aspects of human life (“So you grieve for a while; and you do the wake, you wish the family well”), only it’s tempered by humor and casual warmth you might have picked up from Steve Martin and Bill Murray movies as a kid (“But it’s weird! Folks get freaked and the confidential memos all get leaked”). Sometimes it feels like songs are about the sex-love thang or nothing at all, so I really appreciate guys like you two, who shine a light on the crevices of experience that we also have to deal with.
You also use your lyrical gifts exceptionally when expressing your political perspective. Sure, you could sum it up as “let’s think as long as we can but there comes a time to act”, but by imagining how presidents feel about being on coins, pondering your commie granddad’s racism, providing the definition of “moral” and using Moses (who “could be a bitch with a capital B”) as a hopeful metaphor for the possibility of cultural change in the face of a monolithic government, you provide more laughs and perspective than any stand-up comedian since Richard Pryor (David Cross and Bill Hicks, for all their gifts, feel hindered by bile in comparison). Some might find “Song For The Orca” to be to indicative of the “Float On”-mentality that comes with being lucky (the blessed want to assume everybody gets to their day), but if “This song is for the pitbull covered in cigarette burns. Someday you’ll find his sweet aorta, someday”, doesn’t strike someone as inspired, I’d ask to look down their throat so I could see the broom handle running up their gastric system.
If the rating I’m giving this album doesn’t fit with all the creaming in the previous paragraphs it’s because the songs are musically arch for my tastes. I’ve never heard a minute of Zappa that I have any interest in hearing again so the kind of off-kilter melodies you pull here aren’t really my thing (though I don’t know why any Walt Mink fan would have a problem with it). My favorite D-Plan album is Change because it’s got a lot of sing-a-long hooks, a more linear sense of musical drama and less spazz (you’d think fans of the early stuff would be grateful for the return of quirk here on Travistan, but hey). If it wasn’t for the lyric sheet it’s possible I never would have caught the point of some of these tracks and just dismissed them as annoying jack-offs (some people think its cheating to use liner notes but, damn it, I bought them and you provided them so if they help me dig an album and I acknowledge their value in the review then my take is valid).
If I wasn’t actually sending this you (the idea of writing an open letter to somebody and not giving it to them, especially in the age of e-mail, is so chickenshit), I would have already hypothesized that you’re overcompensating for the band’s absence with all this herky-jerk tomfoolery and that the next album will be more relaxed (haha am I jinxing this?). You had one hell of a rhythm section (Eric Axelson totally earned the right to rock that jam-bandy stationary shuffle) and I wonder if all this stuff thrown on top is make up for the lack of bottom. You’re probably not surprised that “Born In ‘72” and “Any Open Door” are my favorite tracks, though the grooves underneath the busier numbers have been revealing themselves.
After hearing the crap people have said about this album I’m bummed that people are so quick to reject what doesn’t fit their immediate logic. It’s ironic that folks would get off on shredding an album that’s about trying to be kind and honest at the same time. How can people evolve when folks are determined to slam down anything atypical OR repetitive (can you imagine the reaction pre-release Neil Young mp3’s would have gotten back in the day? “OMG HOMEGROWN IS SHIT! IT’S OVER!”) I just wanted you to know that some of us would rather give you a fair shake than rush to be the first to jump off the ship in the face of a rocky wave.
Reviewed by: Anthony Miccio
Reviewed on: 2004-10-01