There are a few things that separate The Dismemberment Plan from the also-rans of Nineties American indie rock, but arguably the most important of all is that they never really let anyone down. They came and they went, leaving behind a discography of seriously enjoyable records, without much cause for consternation or dismay. You wouldn’t begrudge them for wanting to do other things with their lives. They seem too nice and too normal to be rock stars forever; Travis Morrison is definitely not a Malkmus, Mascis or Moore.
Now, though, The Dismemberment Plan are back, with a new record and all. This presents a potential quandary. By returning with a comeback album Morrison et al are potentially liable to let down their fans for pretty much the first time. If Uncanney Valley is deemed a failure then it will be, if not quite a disaster, then at least a major disappointment. No pressure then.
The album starts well, with the slightly bonkers ‘No One’s Saying Nothing’. Anyone else attempting to sneak the rhyme “fat man on drugs, drowning in hugs” into a song would likely be facing the most unsympathetic of reactions from listeners, but somehow Morrison just about gets away with it. In one sense it’s an absolutely terrible way to open an album, treading the finest of lines between daft twaddle and endearingly silly, but the band make it work. Swirling synths and ridiculous keys fade out into some equally ridiculous sounds at the start of ‘Waiting’, the first single, which is somehow like nothing the band have done before and like all their most radio-friendly tunes of yore at the same time. Confused yet?
Things get going properly on the third track, ‘Invisible’, which makes the best of a looped string sample and some nice lines (“Now I’m biting my nails and I’m calling it dinner” being a particular stand-out). This, and the following ‘White Collar, White Trash’ are enough to make one think that, despite the slightly unexpected jarring oddness of the first two tracks, Uncanney Valley is going to be a success.
It’s a shame, then, that the picture becomes so murky soon afterwards. The unremarkable ‘Living in Song’ is like post-Futures Jimmy Eat World. ‘Lookin’ is dull and overlong. ‘Daddy Was a Real Good Dancer’ is just that little bit too sweet. It feels like the record has quite literally fallen apart halfway through, and unlike on the opening numbers, The Dismemberment Plan don’t quite get away with it this time. There’s none of that distinctive bark the band’s best songs have always had, let alone any bite.
Thankfully closer ‘Let’s Just Go to the Dogs Tonight’ acts as something of a saving grace. Much like ‘No One’s Saying Nothing’, it’s barmy at heart, but it’s also a joyous way to end the album. Frankly if the call and response vocals near the end, which I won’t spoil for listeners here, don’t bring a smile to your face then you clearly have no business listening to this record anyway (and you certainly shouldn’t put a Titus Andronicus album on next). More than anything it’s a reminder that, at their best, The Dismemberment Plan have always been a fun band, and so it briefly papers over the disappointment inherent in the album’s middle section.
Yet ultimately it doesn’t change the fact that, while not a failure, Uncanney Valley isn’t the glorious comeback many were expecting. It’s great to have The Dismemberment Plan back, but whether we really needed this record is perhaps a thornier question.
6Benjamin Bland's Score