2 weeks ago brought us the latest from one of my favorite bands, My Morning Jacket. I think their last album Z is one of the best albums of the last 10 years. The show they put on at the Cat’s Cradle in 2004 was one of the all-time greatest shows that I’ve witnessed in person (here’s proof). Needless to say, I was jacked about them having a new offering called Evil Urges.
So…how does it stack up?
The first 3 songs are jarring in a very odd way and just don’t sound at all like My Morning Jacket. First of all, Jim James’ vocals are very different than MMJ’s previous albums, singing in a R & Bish falsetto. You’ll read in other reviews ,like Rolling Stone, that its Prince-esque in a way but I don’t hear any “When Doves Cry”, its just missing the normal reverb. “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt 1” sounds like a Flaming Lips song. The 3rd song ‘Highly Suspicious’ is a disaster and even more so when you consider how amazing MMJ usually is. The chanting chorus, the laughing, the whole thing is a mess. I can’t tell if its a joke or what, but one thing is for sure, MMJ is trying to tell you that what you think of them from their past efforts can essentially be thrown out the door. 3 songs in and I’m like this is going to be a bad record. Some of the other early songs on the record are reminiscent of 80’s ballads, and not in a good way (is there a good way?).
Its not until the 4th song “I’m Amazed” does the sound of previous albums’ start to take shape. In fact, the rest of the album plays out like a normal My Morning Jacket affair with James’ voice back into the normal reverb-soaked wailing and fantastic guitar playing. The second half of the album is excellent and almost makes me forget some of the experimentalness of the first half. Almost. I think the one thing that still bothers me about the record is that it seems like they wanted to experiment in the name of experimenting, not because it actually sounds good or is interesting. Instead, its solely because they wanted to do something different than what they’d done in the past. Its cool not to want to be pigeon-holed as a band that sounds like this or does that, just as bands in the past have done such as Radiohead’s ‘Kid A’ or Wilco’s “Yankee Foxtrot Hotel” which worked well. This one just didn’t work as well.
And my criticism doesn’t mean there aren’t good songs here, there are. “Look at You”, “Smokin from Shootin”, and “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt 2” are all outstanding. And in fact, I’ve grown to like the first song ‘Evil Urges’ which at first I couldn’t get into at the initial listen. Same to a lesser degree for “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt 1”. So this appears to be an album that will grow on you over time, though “Highly Suspicious” will never grow on me. Never.
Overall I’d give it a B –
If you are wondering about the rest of their discography:
Z – A+ fantastic album
It Still Moves – A
At Dawn – A
Okonokos – B+
Tennessee Fire – B