Joel Plaskett Emergency – [Album]

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

As Hunter Thompson once said, at a certain point in one's career, it's imperative to have fun with what you're doing and occasionally shake things up if you want to keep doing it. As one listens to Scrappy Happiness, it would be easy to assume that Joel Plaskett took that idea to heart; originally parceled out one track a week for ten weeks, Scrappy Happiness can be very, very challenging but still manages to hold together as a strong, singular entity.

Listeners who pick up Scrappy Happiness (regardless of the format or medium) and are familiar with how it was made won't know what to expect as “You're Mine” explodes out to make a fantastic introduction for the record. Fans will be taken clean off their feet at the unbridled power and passion of the song as the band storms out to make its presence known. For his own part, Plaskett makes good on and lives up to the Husker Du references that he laces into his lyrics and tightly holds those listeners who catch lines like “Let's make a racket for the old and the young/ For the desperate souls and the lucky ones” and “Wondering, wandering, training my thoughts/ Following, swallowing, connecting the dots/ Passing the guitar, passing the wine— lots” and never lets them go. Right off the bat, the Emergency has fans sold on this set and, as “You're Mine” fades out, they'll be waiting eagerly to see what's coming next.

…And that's when Plaskett shifts completely and threatens to rock those who fell for “You're Mine” and renege on the sale. The acoustic turn represented by “Harbour Boys” is complete and the song is solid enough in a Simon and Garfunkel sort of way (think “America” and you've got the right idea) but, stacked next to “You're Mine,” the transition just feels awkward and presents a potentially frustrating tenor for Scrappy Happiness; as singles, the first two songs on the album would work on their own but feel awkward placed together because one dwarfs and totally overshadows the other. This might not have been the sort of contrast that the Emergency had intended to make on the record while they were doling out one song a week, but that's what has happened in this “all-in” context.

Happily, after a couple more dry, In Need of Medical Attention-esque mid-tempo snoozers (“Old Friends” and “Slow Dance”), the Joel Plaskett Emergency falls into a better groove beginning with “North Star.” There, Plaskett and the Emergency figuratively join their Husker Du references with some from The Beatles and Neil Young and, with a perfectly sublime chord progression and lyrics like “I loved her in an instant/ Like a Turkish cymbal crashin',” strike gold again and illustrate that not all hope is lost; there are flies in the proverbial ointment here, but they don't irredeemably take away from the run-time as a whole. The Emergency ends up equally examining the forms Plaskett developed on In Need Of Medical Attention over a decade ago (read: songwriting so personal it doesn't need artful camouflage because few people other than the singer himself will get the references anyway) and the kitschy rock and pop that no high school student can turn away from and sort of splitting the album's time between the two rather than really trying to integrate them into one cohesive album. The results range from 'not bad' (“Slow Dance” and “Somewhere Else” both fall easily into this margin and are probably the best examples) to 'awesome' (“Tough Love” is a sure entry into the canon as a hit, as is “Time Flies”) which means that the album as a whole amounts to a pretty mixed, but certainly worthwhile affair; imminently listenable, but certainly not their best work. Part of that may have to do with the fact that the songs were parted out individually and were somehow robbed of the cohesive monologue that many of Plaskett's other albums have had in the process in so doing, but there's no way to know that for sure. It's possible that Scrappy Happiness would have fared better if the band had ignored the novelties of how they recorded and released it and stuck to the traditions they built their careers on, but even mentioning that implies that there's something wrong with it and there isn't; Scrappy Happiness isn't a bad record, there are simply better ones in Joel Plaskett's catelogue.


Further Reading:

Ground Control Magazine – Joel Plaskett – [Discography]

Scrappy Happiness
is available now as a Canadian import and will be released domestically on April 3, 2012. Pre-order it here on or buy it here on .

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