Now twelve years after breaking away from Thrush Hermit and striking out on his own, there’s no arguing that Joel Plaskett has established himself as one of the best songwriters in Canada. Since 1999, the singer has successfully managed to translate the small wonders in life (small towns, small town kicks, small town girls, small town bars and the love, loss and leaving of all four) into rock music capable of filling concert theaters in big cities across Canada. The language he uses is superb (who else in rock or folk has been able to turn a single five syllable word like “Extraordinary” into the perfect hook that drives a rock anthem?) and the heart expressed by his voice is undeniable – but is it something he’s able to just call forth on command? As is turns out, being as kitschy-cool and loveable as Joel Plaskett is takes hard work – as EMERGENCYs, false alarms, shipwrecks, castaways, fragile creatures, special features, demons and demonstrations confesses.
Collecting myriad demos, outtakes and songs which just never found a home but were recorded between 1999 and 2010, EMERGENCYs, false alarms, shipwrecks, castaways, fragile creatures, special features, demons and demonstrations gives listeners a behind-the-scenes look at the working process which ultimately yielded some of Joel Plaskett’s biggest hits, and the results prove to be pretty interesting. Listeners can hear, for example, that a song is really only done after it has been recorded and meets muster as the singer makes production notes into the mic as the tape rolls on some of the demos here (check the bridge of “Come On Teacher,” where you can hear the singer second guess himself on lines as well as beginning to sing in French, just to keep the melody going), and “phones in” some of the solo breaks just to make sure he remembers where they should be when he takes a second, third or fourth pass on them later on.
In saying that though, it is worth pointing out even the softer, fuzzier versions included here have their charms as the hooks to each prove to be the first things that are laid in, and the songs are built around them rather than simply having a single good idea that requires further development. Because of that too, even some of the forgotten songs that initially fell by the wayside but have been dusted off for this comp prove that they were just “forgotten” not abandoned along the way; that isn’t meant to imply that every moment is golden (“Cold Blue Light,” the version of “Drunk Teenagers” included here and “Black Sheep Boy” could have remained in the vault), but there is more gold than iron pyrite here. The demo versions of “On The Rail,” “Make A Little Noise,” “Extraordinary,” “Money In The Bank” and “Come On Teacher” are all a little ragged and rough around the edges, but still have their heart and souls in their right place, and only need a bit of spit shine to fly right.
In that way, the tease here is that each song on EMERGENCYs, false alarms, shipwrecks, castaways, fragile creatures, special features, demons and demonstrations is “just so close” to being a hit that listeners find themselves pulling and hoping for each. As these versions of the songs play through, they’ll have first-time listeners rushing out to hear how each turned out and long-time fans falling in love with the music all over again.