Rating: four stars (out of five)
Halifax pop-rocker Joel Plaskettâ€™s new triple album, Three, doesnâ€™t have the songwriting audacity and verve of, say, The Clashâ€™s Sandinista!, or the feel of a man releasing years of pent up music, like George Harrisonâ€™s out-of-left field All Things Must Pass.
Aside from a few numbers that donâ€™t even attempt to hide their Mac computer origins, Three is by and large a straightforward pop-rock album, not too far removed from anything Plaskett has done with his usual backup band, the Emergency.
Sure itâ€™s somewhat raw in comparison to their previous effort, 2007â€™s Ashtray Rock, and with a few more excursions into acoustic reverie, but the basic Plaskett modus operandi is there â€” with the added bonus of a weird obsession.
As far as can be ascertained, everything about Plaskettâ€™s third (!) solo release contains a multiple of three in it. The album was released on the 24th day of the third month of the year, there are nine songs per side, and practically every other tune has a repeating title (Wait, Wait, Wait and Run, Run, Run, for example). Itâ€™s numerology run wild.
This in itself would mean nothing if Plaskett was cramming Three full of quick knockoffs to support the conceit â€” and even then it would still get plaudits for the sheer gall of the idea. The thing is, as ridiculous as it might seem, he actually pulls it off. Three listens in â€” coincidence, I swear! â€” and it becomes evident that Plaskett has written and recorded what could very well be the album of his career.
Itâ€™s possible that Plaskett was exorcising devils via this batch of 27 songs â€” relationship issues, general malaise (New Scotland Blues), heartsickness (Demons) â€” or maybe he just hit a streak. Whatever it was, there simply isnâ€™t a dud to be had here. A few trifles, yes â€” Drifterâ€™s Raus, One Look â€” but even at his slightest, Plaskett can turn a phrase or a hook so lovely you can forgive him anything.
As befits a homemade enterprise, Plaskett is responsible for much of Threeâ€™s instrumentation, but a few guests join in â€” like his father Bill, a folk guitarist in his own right, and Dale Murray of Cuff the Duke on pedal steel.
The album closer, On & On & On, reunites Plaskett with the members of the Emergency â€” itâ€™s a conceptually perfect, over-the-top (at 12 minutes) ending that serves as a bit of a release after so many lyrical hints at dark clouds on the horizon.
That Plaskett can still take so much obvious pleasure in confounding expectations â€” or simply tweaking people â€” is a mark in his favour. Close to two decades into his career and heâ€™s obviously got his priorities straight in regards to why he does what he does.
â€œI play for money but I sing for free,â€ he insists during New Scotland Blues, and maybe that sums the album up best.