In Need of Medical Attention
1999 | No Alternative Records
Here is my long-awaited review of singer, guitarist, songwriter Joel Plaskett's latest album release, entitled: In Need of Medical Attention and it's well worth the wait, I can tell you!
There are certain albums that transport you somewhere else as soon as you hear the first chord strike the first beat of the first song. Sometimes you are taken into the shoes of a person who is living the high life; sometimes you are swept away into a love relationship gone sour; other times you are transplanted into the mind of a lunatic. Regardless, there is nothing like music that has the power to flee with your imagination.
Hearing the first chord on the first beat of the first song of Joel Plaskett's In Need of Medical Attention is no different. In this case, the gangly "Nova Scotian" invites your imagination to walk with him through his bizarre conceptual last days. Beginning at his death, moving on through doctor's appointments, fatal diagnoses, goodbyes and, eventually, the death of the doctor. Before you rush out and purchase the album to use for sing-a-long with your local kindergarten class, please read on.
Over the past 10 years, Joel Plaskett has wiggled behind his guitar and tunefully ranted his way to becoming one of Canada's most gifted songwriters. From his days fronting the band Thrush Hermit during the mid-90's "Seattle East" Halifax rock hey-days, through to his dynamic and creative solo efforts (including his new band, The Joel Plaskett Emergency), Plaskett has established himself as one of the hardest-working, most faithfully Canadian artists around.
Between 1996 and 1998, Joel was busy recording and touring Thrush Hermit's second album Clayton Park (a fantastic album that will show up on NMP before long – stay tuned). During his free time, the singer/songwriter was dabbling around with songs about medicine, inspired by the irony of the death of his grandfather – a doctor. What eventually took form was the highly conceptual In Need of Medical Attention.
Medical Attention was recorded on home-recording devices at Plaskett's residence as well as on tour with The Hermit. The first chords of the opening track "The News of Your Son" say it all – this album is not about perfection or glossy sheen, it is about honesty, artistry and feeling. The homemade sounds of instruments mic'd with "whatever was lying around" are masterfully woven together to support the unique voice of a musician (unknowingly) at the beginning of creating some of his best work.
Feature numero uno on Medical Attention (as on any Plaskett record) is the lyrics. Plaskett has developed an incredibly fresh vernacular to use in expressing his deepest sympathies along with his most comical ideas. The album is riddled with gripping expressions of confusion and disappointment such as, I went to the doctor to check out my heart / He said that he couldn't find it (from "I'd Rather Be Deadly Than Dead") and, If I'm in the car when it crashes / Miss me most and you can kiss my ashes (from "When I Have My Vision").
Musically, the mild rock textures of Medical Attention give way, part way through, to beautiful country-folk songs – some of the strongest songs on the album. As the final tracks arrive, the album dwindles down to a sparse and lonely ending. Adding to Plaskett's musical fantasy is the voice of fellow "Halifaxian" Al Tuck, singing the part of the doctor. His entrance onto the soundscape of the album comes as something of a shock, but the dialogue that is struck up between the two voices creates some of the most moving points on the album. One last musical note: what concept album about doctors and medicine would be complete without a nod to a great television drama of the same theme? Listen for hints of the M*A*S*H theme song snuck into "Weigh It Down".
In Need of Medical Attention is an indie album that should make the independent record industry beam. It is brave. It is more about self-expression than self-promotion. It is filled with songs written so well that you swear you've heard them before when you listen for the first time. If you tend to attach negative stigma to solo albums and concept albums, Plaskett's first solo record will speak in its own defense. And speak it will - down to the very last note on the very last beat of the very last song.
- The News of Your Son (track 1)
- Weigh it Down (track 4)
- I'd Rather Be Deadly Than Dead (track 5)
- She Made a Wreck Outta Me (track 6)
- In Need of Medical Attention (track 9)