Wednesday, June 4, 2008

My Morning Jacket / "Evil Urges"

In the Rolling Stone review of "Evil Urges", My Morning Jacket's fifth album, Will Hermes likens the album to "Kid A" and "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" as a dramatic artistic departure for the band. This, by the way, is insane. First of all, both of those records are among the best albums released the entire decade and were breakthroughs sonically and culturally. "Evil Urges", on the other hand, while occasionally sounding like nothing else in the band's cannon is also not as good as any of the band's previous albums (which, if you've been keeping track of, have all been spectacular).

When I got my copy of "Evil Urges" on May 29th, it was easily my most anticipated album of the year, even ahead of Wolf Parade and well ahead of the increasingly-boring Coldplay* and Weezer. This fervor was only further assisted by the fact that the first single and opening track, "Evil Urges", was outstanding. Beginning with the dominant Prince-like falsetto lead singer Jim James first displayed on "Wordless Chorus" from 2005's masterpiece "Z", it rocks with sexuality and energy before breaking down into the band's signature Southern guitar-rock. But after that is when things go downhill. "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream (Part One)" appears to build to a crescendo, but besides a puzzling bagpipe entrance it never happens. The band hits rock bottom on the next track. "Highly Suspicious" might be the worst song the band has ever put to studio album. Beginning with a falsetto as on the title track, James tries to sound sexy and confident while singing some bullshit about "peanut-butter pudding surprise" while a chant of "highly suspicious! highly suspicious at you!" continues in the background. The band awkwardly segues into a mediocre guitar solo and the song comes to a long-awaited close.

Just when I feared I might be dealing with a "Some Loud Thunder" kind of flop, the band returns to form with "I'm Amazed". The song is an absolute gem with the kind of Southern rock and thunder that made 2003's "It Still Moves" a classic. The momentum built by "I'm Amazed" slows some with "Thank You Too", which sounds like Eagles-lite with hackneyed romantic lyrics and refrain vocal harmonies. It's not a bad song, just an extremely forgettable one. "Sec Walking" is the same story as "Thank You Too", although the James' vocal performance is much better than the average one exhibited on "Thank You Too". "Two Halves" is a slight return to form, and while inducing far fewer yawns than the previous two tracks, is nothing special in itself. The next track "Librarian" chronicles James' attempting to woo a librarian out of her prude shell. Combining a soft acoustic guitar with a touch of strings, it rings personal and tender despite the hard-to-be-taken-seriously topic of the song. "Look At You" sounds like their earliest work harkening back to 2001's "At Dawn", which is definitely a good thing. The acoustic guitar and vocals intertwine beautifully. The lyrics more or less sum up the relaxing placidity of the song: "such a glowing example of peace and glory".

"Aluminum Park" and "Remnants" mark a return to the fist-pumping rock of the opening track and are the most captivating tracks on the album since "I'm Amazed". "Smoking From Shooting" is another very solid Southern rock number and features some of the best use of vocal harmonies displayed on the album, as well as a great guitar solo. It fades into "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream (Part Two)", which sounds very little like the first part. Unveiling itself slowly before hitting with a much quicker pace than part one, the guitar bubbles just underneath the surface as the vocals carry the song past the eight minute mark. Unfortunately, the similarity that it shares with part one is that no real crescendo ever takes place and elevates the song to its maximum potential. The closing "track" is "Good Intentions" which consists of nothing more than a crowd cheering for five seconds before James say "okay, cool" and the album ends. In an album that often confounds, it seems a natural conclusion.

"Evil Urges" is simply a frustrating album. It has too many bad tracks to be considered that good, but too many moments which showcase the band at their peak to be written off. However, in the wake of four consecutive incredible studio efforts and an equally thrilling two-disc live album ("Okonokos") it's hard to see it as anything but a disappointment. So, yes, it's a disappointing album, but one of the few which come recommended.

Rating: 7.2

*if only because I hated "X & Y"

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