Review Summary: A good listen in general, but one that is frustratingly uneven and overly indulgent even for a band that is well known for stretching their creative boundaries.
My Morning Jacket has always been ahead of the curve in the Americana country-rock scene, blowing listeners away with their unique combination of psychedelic pop and barn-burning guitar rock on their last album, 2005’s Z. Their newest continues this trend of expanding their sound but doesn’t quite leave a lasting mark as Z does, instead wasting much of its creative capital on genre expeditions that often fail to pan out.
Evil Urges starts off with mixed results. The title track, a soul-inflected, funky piece with a rollicking second-half guitar solo, opens the album and singer/guitarist Jim James’ voice is in fine falsetto form. “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Part I,” however, is a by-the-numbers retread of an amalgam of songs from Z, mostly “It Beats 4 U,” and comes and go with barely anything to attract the listener’s attention. It’s mediocre and nearly boring, something MMJ has had a tough time being in the past several years.
The worst offense on the record, however, is easily the next track, “Highly Suspicious,” a song that attempts to emulate Prince but ends up turning James’ powerful voice into a parody of itself. The cartoonish bass chants of “highly suspicious / highly suspicious of you” and the artificial guitar solo turns the song into its own joke, the kind that doesn’t know when to quit and quickly becomes annoying.
The rest of the record is a series of musical gems that practically sparkle with the kind of country-fried rock and good ideas that MMJ have become loved for interspersed with tracks that quite rightly pose the question: “what were they thinking?” “I’m Amazing” is a fantastic song, anchored by a simple keyboard beat and propelled by James’ transcendent vocals and a storming guitar part. The momentum is squandered, however, by the following “Thank You Too!,” a song so earnest it had to have its own exclamation point. It veers dangerously close to soft-rock territory and the words are some of the sappiest MMJ have put to music.
Evil Urges is marred by this inconsistency, and it’s definitely a record that requires repeated listens. A song like “Librarian” at first tends to fade into the memory on the first run, but on returning it shows itself to be a beautifully well crafted slow-burner of a song that owes everything to James’ yearning delivery.
Other songs, however, like the too-country-for-its-own-good “Look At You,” which suffers from a uninteresting melody and an anticlimactic chorus, or the ill-planned shredder “Remnants,” which drowns itself in reverb and guitar feedback and unintelligible lyrics, never truly distinguish themselves as anything other than substandard indie-rock fare.
It’s hard to criticize a band which has been so consistent for so long, and songs like “Two Halves” and the catchy bar-band rocker “Aluminum Park” prove that My Morning Jacket still have the fire in them. But it is also impossible to ignore the irreparable harm a song like “Highly Suspicious” does to a record, and while the band has succeeded in cutting down their usually jam-band-esque song lengths over the years, the eight-minute long closer “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Part II” contains about four minutes of dispensable baggage. And the totally unnecessary five-second long “Good Intentions” that truly ends the album is inexplicable, to say the least. A good listen in general, but one that is frustratingly uneven and overly indulgent even for a band that is well known for stretching their creative boundaries.