FRIDAY, JUNE 20, 2008|
There’s always been something slightly slimy about pigeon holing My Morning Jacket. Yes, Louisville KY’s native sons did kick their career off with three recorded efforts that played like whiskey soaked forays into the heart of Southern rock; discs that never sounded entirely like Skynyrd, yet somehow felt authentically close (even more so when the band churned their way through a rendition of “Free Bird” in Cameron Crowe’s 2005 flick Elizabethtown). But Jim James has never seemed completely comfortable with such Southern touchstones, and the assemblage of musicians surrounding him too talented to be one dimensional. Splayed with bits of dub, reggae, and soul, their ’05 album Z felt like the final swan song of their still mostly Southern sounding pedigree. The writing was on the wall. My Morning Jacket could do something different…something extreme even.
Titled Evil Urges, the band’s latest record makes good on their threat to evolve. So much so, the band sounds only vaguely familiar throughout the record’s first seven tracks. Yes…the band is in fine form on opener “Evil Urges”. But James greets listeners with a new kind of falsetto; one I’m not sure I like. Gone is the patented, silo dwelling reverb. In its’ place are vocals wound tight, and pushed to freakish new frequencies. Think white boy caricatures of Prince’s famous yelp and you begin to come close.
Thus begins the rather baffling listening experience that is Evil Urges. “Highly Suspicious” certainly chugs along. But the coupling of James’ falsetto with the strangest, rough and tumble chorus MMJ have ever dreamt up is just bizarre. On “I’m Amazed”, a baffled James works his way down a vague laundry list of occurrences that have him generally confused. I’m more amazed the track sounds so flat. Then there’s “Two Halves”; a painfully bouncy track that plays like a fixed plastic smile from a band that always wore bold emotion and authenticity on their sleeves.
I suppose some will call Evil Urges fearless. Up until “Librarian” though, it’s mostly indecisive. Even more frustrating, MMJ have not exactly brushed off the traces of their former selves. “Librarian” may be a kind of juvenile day dream (sample lyric: “Simple little bookworm buried underneath/Is the sexiest librarian/Take off those glasses and let down your hair for me”), but its ‘gothic, folk stir is ultimately one of the most effective moments on the record. The same goes for “Aluminum Park” and “Remnants”. It Still Moves style guitar riffs and steel plated drum work escort these two monsters along…almost long enough to lose ones self in the same kind of far flung, arena rock fantasies My Morning Jacket’s previous albums once encouraged. - David Pitz