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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

My Morning Jacket: "Evil Urges"

A few weeks ago I happened across an internet rant by some guy proclaiming Nickelback to be the saviors of rock music.  Clearly this guy's knowledge of rock music doesn't really extend past the early nineties, otherwise he would know that Nickelback's testosterone-fueled "music" has nearly nothing in common with the rock music of the 60s and 70s.  In my mind, My Morning Jacket have always stayed true to their influences and in doing so, have been carrying the torch of rock music for the better part of a decade.  Evil Urges continues this trend, but adds to the group's already wide array of sounds, vibes, and styles.

The album's title track starts things off on the right foot, with lead vocalist Jim James singing the song in an adequate falsetto.  He croons, "Evil urges baby/ they're just part of the human way," during the chorus, and I'm not too big to say that I was singing right along (in falsetto, no less) by the time it came back around.  The guitars on this song are impressive to say the least, especially in the song's breakdown where the guys just seem to be begging for a spot on the next Guitar Hero game.  "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream (Part 1)" is a different style entirely, with a whole mess of electronic strings and synths coating the song's goofy lyrics and catchy drumming.  James' desire to be touched makes for a really interesting and fun listen, believe it or not, and it's an early standout on the album.

On "Highly Suspicious," James seems to be channeling Prince more than Three Dog Night, again sticking with the falsetto while the other band members add in deep, growling guard dog vocals in the chorus.  Calling this song the strangest MMJ song to date is no big feat.  That'd be like calling the Sears Tower tall.  But for as strange as it is to hear someone sing about a "peanut butter pudding surprise" (which simply has to be a sexual innuendo), I can't help but completely dig this song.  It is followed by, "I'm Amazed" which finally has the band sounding like a more familiar version of themselves.  The southern rock sound that they have doubtlessly mastered is in full effect here.  James sounds like himself, once again, and the song is easily one of the album's best.

"Thank You Too" is very reminiscent of Eagles, and is a pretty touching song.  In the chorus James sings, "I want to take you for all that you are/ I know our worlds seem far apart/ I want to see you for all that you do/ I want to thanks you," and lush harmonies swell in over his vocals and really make the song a memorable, enjoyable experience.  "Sec Walkin'" is more southern rock, with a lap steel featured prominently.  There's nothing particularly notable about the song, but it's not a complete dud either.  "Two Halves" leaves a more lasting impression, with a very 50s doo-wop rock feel - sort of like an upbeat "Last Kiss."  At about 2 1/2 minutes, I've found myself listening to it repeatedly just so I don't feel cheated.

"Librarian" is about a "simple little bookworm" that Jim James seems to have a fondness for.  He seems to think she's more of a temptress than she lets on and weaves a love story between the two of them in his head.  The song is simple, and never really builds or evolves beyond the first 30 seconds.  Still, I've found myself amused by the lyrical content, so it's hard to hate it entirely.  "Look at You" is more classic MMJ, with a soft southern rock feel to it.  It's not until "Aluminum Park" that things start to mix back up.  With a driving, tinny guitar lead and James' powerful vocal performance, it stands out as one of the better tracks on the album.  It reminds me of the chaotic nature of "What a Wonderful Man," which was a favorite of mine on Z.  "Remnants" is more Guitar Hero material, but it almost seems out of place on this album because it is so loud and crazy.  Do I enjoy it?  Absolutely.  It just sticks out like a sore thumb when you listen to it in the context of the album.  If that doesn't bother you, prepare to be amazed.

The album closes out with what I feel are its two weakest tracks.  "Smokin' From Shootin'" drags through its 5 minutes.  I spend most of my time waiting for something to happen, and by the time something finally does, I've lost any interest that I may have had.  This is one of those songs that probably should have been saved for a B-sides collection.  "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream (Part 2)" is a driving 8-minute disco behemoth.  The first five minutes of the song are all pretty much the same, and it's not until after that that things start building and becoming interesting.  It is not a terrible song, but like its predecessor, I just don't see the necessity of its inclusion on the album; especially since there's already a Part 1 that did the job just fine.

Overall, Evil Urges is a fairly impressive album.  My Morning Jacket has never been a band afraid of taking risks and trying new things, and songs like "Highly Suspicious" or "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream (Part 1)" really show how great this band can be when they are pushing themselves to evolve.  On Evil Urges, they successfully create new, exciting sounds, but at the same time they mix them with songs that are more reminiscent of their past successes.  The result is an album that feels much more disjointed than their previous work. It lacks the focus and continuity of Z, though it maintains its charm and technical prowess.  Evil Urges is far from My Morning Jacket's best album, but with this many solid songs that you can listen to over and over again, it's hard to not love it even a teeny bit.  

Key Tracks:
1. "Evil Urges"
2. "Highly Suspicious" 
3. "I'm Amazed"
4. "Thank You Too"
5. "Remnants"

7 out of 10 Stars


Anonymous said...

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JD said...

Wow, this site must be becoming main stream. You are getting spam in you comments section. Kudos.

Anonymous said...

Great music, the Eagles, My Morning Jacket, The Allman Brothers, lately the classic bands are resurfacing and stronger than ever. One doesn't have to be in that era to possess a similar style, soulful writers and true musicians of today have it as well. I found this artist a while ago, Trevor Finlay. He's Canadian but based out of Nashville, writing for his next album. I think he's great. Comments anybody?

Tawriffic said...

Hey, I like your review and I actually enjoy "Smokin from Shootin". It reminds me of "knot comes loose" from the Z album. Evil Urges is an album in 3 parts so those who cant get into "Highly Suspicious" and "Scream Pt1" will find lots of other songs to embrace.

Cale said...

You know what, the more I listen to it, the more I like the ending where Jim is singing along with the bass guitar. It's not a terrible song, and none of the songs on this album are.

I definitely like Knot Comes Loose much better though. Just a much more polished, complete song.

Thanks for your kind comments though. I much prefer those over spam...