Evil Urges

My Morning Jacket

ATO, 2008


REVIEW BY: Melanie Love


Evil Urges, the latest from buzzed-about rockers My Morning Jacket, can best be summed up as eclectic -- which pretty good, considering that critics quickly pigeonholed the group, who formed in Kentucky in 1998, as Southern rockers simply carrying the classic rock torch. Here, the warm country tinge slips through on some tracks, but then, there’s just as much of lead singer Jim James’ simmering Prince fixation, chugging riff-rockers, some lovely spare ballads, a single that sounds plucked straight off of lite-rock radio with its shimmering, swaying melodies…simply said, the boys of My Morning Jacket aren’t even really genre-bending, since everything but the kitchen sink has been stuffed into this record. And yet, what keeps it all tied together is the human element of James’ lyrics: he may be lusting after librarians or getting up on his soapbox, but where the album shines the most is its most tender moments -- even when that tenderness is beefed up with trippy, tricked-out instrumentation.

Things are nothing short of breathless for the first four tracks, ricocheting from the glossy instrumentation and James’ equally slick falsetto of opener “Evil Urges” to the throbbing, defiantly over-the-top beats of “Highly Suspicious.” “Evil Urges” in particular is sparkling with energy, setting up the album’s theme: “It ain’t evil if ya ain’t hurting anybody, anybody,” James says, voice sultry and loaded as the song breaks off into a fiery, dueling guitar break a little reminiscent of The Who.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It’s the duo of “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2” where this disc is at its most triumphant, though. “Pt. 1” is built around an insistent drum-beat (courtesy of Patrick Hallahan), thrumming bass, and James’ smooth, enveloping vocals. His final line in particular, “I need a human right by my side / Untied,” is achingly resonant and revealing, especially backed by swelling guitars and the switch-up from programmed to live drums. Meanwhile, “Pt. 2” is full-out psychedelic spaciness, recalling Pink Floyd’s slow-burning sonic landscapes. Eight minutes pass by in a blur of reverberating guitars, “Two-Tone” Tommy’s thick bass, and the buoyant refrain, “Oh, this feeling is wonderful / Don’t you ever turn it off.”

For the attention-grabbing, kitschy swagger of tracks like “Highly Suspicious” (with its odd refrain, “Peanut butter pudding surprise!” and James’ falsetto dueling with guttural growling) and the accessible “I’m Amazed,” there are still deeper cuts to be appreciated here. “Librarian,” for one, is stunningly restrained, just James’ mournful, fuzzy vocals, an acoustic guitar, and light touches of eerily trilling strings. Lines like “Take off your glasses and let your hair down for me” bypass any potential cheesiness or luridness and instead are strikingly tender.

And the band still does sun-warmed Southern flair well, too. “Two Halves” is beefed-up Beach Boys with its flickering harmonies and thick walls of guitars, while “Sec Walkin” has a Neil Young sort of feel with its loose, swaying instrumentation and James’ ever-morphing vocals; this time he’s worn and wistful, and as always, you buy his shape-shifting because he embodies each character so effortlessly.

Evil Urges does take repeated listens to reconcile itself into something solid and whole; otherwise, it can seem like a messy patchwork, or an aping of all the classic rock greats. Still, once it sets in, this disc reveals what it really is: surprisingly seamless, weird, poignant, energetic, very nearly wonderful…seems fitting to take a whole slew of adjectives to describe a collection of songs this varied. But the veers and twists of Evil Urges prove to be well worth exploring.

Rating: B+

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© 2008 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of ATO, and is used for informational purposes only.