My Morning Jacket

My Morning Jacket

ATO Records, 2021

http://www.mymorningjacket.com/

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/10/2022

It’s been a good six years since My Morning Jacket released an album, with the members using that time off to pursue solo projects or just rest, but it seems that time was necessary to regroup after so many years of writing and touring. It also allowed the band to roar back with their stellar self-titled album, which comes 22 years into their existence and retains their signature sound and approach.

Although “roared” is the wrong word. MMJ is not the roaring type; rather, they are the ruminative type that still marries jam band sensibility with folk, blues, a slight twinge of early Moody Blues, and country. A previous Vault review called one of their albums “odd in Technicolor,” which is an apt description for a band that’s just off center but is happy to be back playing after a needed absence.

Like any jam band release, some of the songs drift longer than they should without the payoff one would expect for the length, but MMJ alternates between these think-pieces and punchier fuzzed-out blues rockers. There’s not necessarily a coherent musical focus, but lyrically, Jim James is on point with calling out society’s current issues (social media reliance, consumerism, racism). The end result is an album with a little something for everyone, an album with a personality that sucks the listener in.

“Regularly Scheduled Programming” is a rather dour way to open the album, though, and almost derails the project before the funky guitar chug of “Love Love Love” saves the day, repeating its central musical motif underneath James’ repeated and repetitive lyrics about how the more you give, the more you get. We already knew this because of Paul McCartney and, well, the Bible, but it’s wiser to pay attention to the guitar here, especially the wonky solo that comprises the final minute of the piece.

The anti-racism “In Color” crawls along for a few minutes before exploding into an extended solo; it’s a song that should be faster and hit harder, and maybe in concert this one will come to life. “Least Expected” is much better after the minute-long introduction, a pensive country-rocker that shifts keys and moods but never loses focus. With a little editing, one suspects this was the vibe the entire album was going for, and it’s an easy highlight here.

“Never In the Real World” is another track that sort of slouches along with a Dylan drawl before coming to life with vivid guitars and a burst of noise that the first half of the song doesn’t really earn. Better is “Complex,” a Black Keys-esque midtempo rocker with some great guitar soloing, and for those who miss Bob Dylan, “Penny For Your Thoughts” is probably the best neo-Dylan song that’s come along in a while.

The center of the album, though, is the nine-minute “The Devil’s In The Details,” which takes aim at consumerism (“The Lord is at the mall”), willful ignorance (“Send the children off to war, drafted by poverty / The senator’s son is safely sound asleep / Aw, but let us forget the war / And buy something pretty”), the horrible truth about where our consumer goods come from (“Growing up at the mall, amid the fruits of slavery / We all stand complicit in the greed”) and vanity (“Going to Sephora / To find a different face / With enough paint, I’ll disappear without a trace”). The world’s events of the last five years have awakened a desire for James to write about something deeper and more uncomfortable, and even if the song is sparsely instrumental, the delivery compels you to pay attention. 

The album closes with “I Never Could Get Enough,” an ambient and pleasant love song that drones on for eight minutes, but at least has a semblance of hope that’s badly needed after the more serious songs here. It caps an album that is sometimes frustrating, sometimes brilliant, sometimes noisy, and generally interesting. In Technicolor.

Rating: B-

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