Once every decade or so, a band comes along that captures everyone’s attention. They can do no wrong. They have insanely passionate fans that leave you, the hardcore music fan, wondering, “Why don’t I get it like they do?” Rock critics sing their praises to the heavens, and every other band wants to play with them. For the past five years My Morning Jacket has been that band.
When they first burst onto the scene they were a horde of hairy, psychedelic southern rockers from Kentucky who loved their reverb. They played intense live shows, had long hair that covered their faces and were everyone’s favorite band at Bonnaroo year after year. And then they released 2005’s Z, reinventing themselves by moving away from the straight-forward rock they mined for so long for a detour into outer space, universally hailed as one of the best of year, instantly setting the bar at unreachable heights.
So how does a band follow that up? By reinventing itself again with Evil Urges. Ditching much of the reverb it’s become known for, MMJ cranks up the weird atmospherics and throbbing dance beats on an album that defies expectations. Lead singer Jim James sings in a slightly off-kilter, Prince-like falsetto that only adds to the weirdness. Does this mean they have completely forsaken their past? Hardly. “I’m Amazed” is a simple rocker that could easily have been an outtake from 2003’s It Still Moves, and “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 1” has that classic reverb-heavy sound. They still have enough guitar drive behind them to keep everyone throwing up devil-horns, but this time they fully develop some of those risks first hinted on Z. They don’t always work, but My Morning Jacket should be applauded.
Evil Urges is the not the sound of a band playing it safe. My Morning Jacket could have released It Sill Moves and Z clones until the cows come home and still be hailed as geniuses. Like Radiohead and Wilco, they have taken all those lessons learned from past albums, forgotten them, and then started over. The results are stunning. Will everyone get it? Probably not, but they have your attention.
Evil Urges is out now on ATO Records.