When describing “Evil Urges,” the title track from Louisville-based My Morning Jacket’s new album, frontman/chief songwriter/spaceboots-wearin’ fearless leader Jim James talked about how the band would just “go off into space” when writing new parts to the song. The five-minute plus tune evokes soulful R&B grooves to Kentucky fried-dual guitar freakouts and back to it’s central refrain as it is relaunched into orbit. “Evil urges baby, they’re just part of the human way. It ain’t evil baby, if ya ain’t hurting anybody,” James sings in high-falsetto. And he couldn’t have made it more obvious himself because My Morning Jacket not only are throwing fans a musical curveball, but have some inner demons to conquer themselves on their latest offering.
As a faithful MMJ fan, I was fully aware writing a review of “Evil Urges,” their first album since 2005’s life-altering, astonishing marvel “Z,” was NOT going to be easy. However, it wasn’t as difficult writing this blurb as it was hearing this record in it’s entirety. “Urges” is a frustrating listen from the opening drum-wraps to the album’s final four seconds of nonsense. Missing are MMJ’s trademark reverb-soaked vocals, “motivated” guitar jams, and most depressingly, songcrafting.
The one thing I will forever adore about this band is how they create inspired songs laced with an honesty behind their Southern-tinged seven-to-eight minute rockers. Inspiration is certainly M.I.A. on this record.
“Evil Urges” zig-zags like a staggering “Glass Joe” in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, shifting from funky R&B grooves (title track) to James Taylor man-crushin’ (“Sec Walkin'”) to arena-sized riff-rockin (“Aluminum Park”) to WTF!? (“Highly Suspicious”) The song is so painful that by the time you’ve endured Olmec from Nickelodeon’s “Legends of the Hidden Temple” chanting “Highly Suspicious of You” for the 27th time, it makes you yearn for the cheesy, but appropriate sounds of Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watchin’ Me.” Hell, if “Highly Suspicious” was released in 1984, MMJ would’ve given Berry Gordy Jr.’s prodigee a run for his top 40 blood money. Now if they could just get Jermaine Jackson to guest vocal on the chorus instead of a giant animatronic talking piece of foam.
After the undeniably disastrous first half of “Urges,” we’re introduced to a little ditty called “Two Halves.” It’s a nice 60’s-style doo-wop rock tune that reminds us this band can do anything they damn-well please and it works in all it’s Roy Orbison-worshiping glory.
“Librarian” has to be one of the best narratives James’ has ever penned. “Sweetest little bookworm, hidden underneath is the sexiest librarian…take off those glasses and let down your hair for me.” Obsessed much, I know, but the way this tune floats around amidst it’s dusty stack of books and pitch-black summer skies, it’s difficult not to be enthralled by the mood of James’ storytelling. Plus, it’s about damn time someone wrote a great song about a sexy librarian. Gentlemen, we’ve all been there, don’t deny it.
The album concludes with the haunting one-two punch of “Smokin’ from Shootin'” and “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Part 2.” “Shootin” is an excellent builder from Bo Koster’s quiet key-tappin’to guitarist/MVP Carl Broehmel’s heavy-plucking as James brings his A-game to a deafening climax that would make Charles Bronson proud. The song wanders into “Touch Me…,” an eight-minute disco “jambulance” where drummer Patrick Hallahan’s beating eerily reminds me of the B-52’s “Summer of Love.” It’s space-rock-prog-disco-psychedelia at it’s finest…woah.
“This feeling is wonderful…don’t you ever turn it off,” James exclaims as his gang caps off a confusing conclusion to a record that is more intrigued with sounding eclectic than creating the memorable MMJ moments we’re so fond of. If it weren’t for “Urges'” hard to swallow first half, this album would be destined for healthy repeated listens instead of turning the “wonderful feeling” off.
Don’t forget that the band will be showing off one of the best live acts around later this summer at Stubbs. The show isn’t sold out yet so hurry up and buy some tickets. And be sure to check out our (fake) interview with Jim James.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/mmj_evil_urges.mp3]