Review Summary: My Morning Jacket's greatest effort to date is phenomenal but unpretentious. Too unpretentious, actually.
Z is one of the biggest curveballs in recent rock history. I'm sorry, I've never been good at intros. My Morning Jacket had been around for a while before they released this record, and they had consolidated their place in indie rock with a brand of music that was a bit like a more wide-eyed and classic rock-influenced version of Wilco. It Still Moves, released in 2003, seemed like the pinnacle of their intended sound. It was more accomplished than ever before, and the songs were long and languid. The music managed to sound intimate and solemn at the same time, and the rockouts were evenly matched by the ballads.
They must have thought at that point, where do we go from here? Do we keep honing that sound until we get a record that is slightly sharper than the previous one, but substantially identical? Or do we mess around with all the influences that have informed us but that we have so far willfully ignored? To say that they opted for the latter path would be an understatement that you couldn't believe.
Z is a glorious mess. It is one of those rare instances where the band seem to bounce all sorts of ideas off each other in hope that at least some would work, and by some sort of miracle they all do. You might be tipped off that you're in for that kind of record from the very beginning, the aptly titled Wordless Chorus: the song rests on a flimsy pair of chords played on a synth, then it blossoms into a magnificent, huh, wordless chorus layered with soulful vocal harmonies. It sounds like a less off-putting version of TV On The Radio. It sounds like nothing they've ever done before. This kind of revelatory moment will basically occur to the listener as many times in the record as there are tracks. My Morning Jacket have chosen to draw from all sorts of musical genres and registers, most notably and surprisingly RnB and soul music, almost forsaking the sound that brought them to relative fame in the first place (it will still rear its head in a couple songs, like Lay Low: but even in that one, it sounds more like a duet featuring ''old'' My Morning Jacket and Marvin Gaye). Another definite presence you may hear is the oblique alt-rock of the likes of Radiohead circa Kid-A, or Flaming Lips circa The Soft Bulletin, but since as I said this record is thoroughly crazy, none of the influences mentioned apply to the majority of the LP.
Off The Record starts like a substantially inoffensive Reggae-tinged anthem, but then here comes the weirdest outro, that sounds like vintage German electronica. What A Wonderful Man is a delightfully sloppy garage pop ditty, only slightly ruined by an oddly placed bluesy lick somewhere in the middle (if anything a symptom of their playful urge to cram ideas in a song). Knot Comes Loose has a caribbean feel to it, but then you also hear a twisted take on 80s balladry. The list goes on, but it's actually easier for me to pinpoint the only track in the record that isn't an unqualified success: that would be Into The Woods, a waltzy number that leaves no lasting impression.
While from a musical point of view this record is irreprehensible (and several kinds of awesome), the lyrical content is a massive letdown. Don't get me wrong: in most of the music I like, the lyrics don't matter. I would have been content, with sounds as great as these, with lyrics that do not distract too much from the music. But there are some lines throughout the record that sound almost too cringeworthy to be true. Off The Record might be catchy and carefree, but that doesn't justify lyrics like ''Sorry Bout The Things That I Had To Say /And I'll Make It Up To You Right Now At The Penny Arcade''. Lay Low is supposed to be about sex, ok, but even Let's Get It On was subtler. The grand prize must go, however, to the song that I have already indicated as the filler on this record, Into the Woods: you won't believe that Jim James, folk icon with a huge cult following, is actually saying ''A Good Showerhead And My Right Hand/
The Two Best Lovers That I Ever Had'', or that when he sings of kittens on fire and babies in blenders (already awkward to begin with), you will hear matching SFX. I think the general flaw to be found here is one that I never thought I would point out in a rock band: My Morning Jacket, instead of taking themselves too seriously, don't take themselves seriously enough. Perhaps they thought that the vast scope of the record would come off as too ambitious and arrogant (which it totally doesn't, by the way.. it manages to remain warm and welcoming), and that they should offset that by means of lame jokes and overall subpar lyricism.
Besides the buzzkill that are the lyrics, if you're willing to overlook that (I was, to a reasonable degree), this is one the most challenging, stimulating and original (but still accessible) rock records to have come out in recent history. Do yourself a favor and pick it up no matter what your musical background is.
do you know what pretentious means? Because your summary is dumb. Less off-putting TV on the Radio? Also I fail to see how music can be "irreprehensible", I mean, yes someone listening to some extreme metal may come to think of it as reprehensible (depending on their tastes) but it kind of does nothing to actually tell me what the music is like on this.
1. I made a clear point of what I felt was unpretentious (and excessively so) in this record. I honestly don't know how to make that point clearer: MMJ are among the least self-serious bands around, which allows them to step out of their comfort zone but is also a burden.
2. Less off-putting TV On The Radio. This review has been written after everyone has said all they had to say about the record, naming the same influences ad nauseam. I tried to avoid that. But I don't think it's far-fetched.
3. Irreprehensible is not a word I used to describe the music, but in counterposition with the awfulness of the music. And I mean irreprehensible, as in, you have a hard time casting valid criticism on it [which is perhaps stretching the original meaning a bit, but I expect it to be clear]. And also, the lyrics are fucking reprehensible. They are a crime against the english language.
most importantly, I tried to deal with the issue of MMJ not being serious enough for their own good. It's a rare criticism to be given in music, but it applies here and it seems no one talked about it.
okay, I understand, but you're not using pretentious in the right way. It's not a matter of being self-serious, pretentious is basically assuming yourself of the utmost importance in an exaggerated manner; generally speaking it's not a virtue. So I fail to see how being "too unpretentious" is a flaw. If you don't think they take themselves seriously enough, then just state that instead.
I understand your comparison to TV on the Radio, I just think if you cast off another band (whether you meant to or not) as off-putting is not the way to go about describing the sound of the song. Also, saying less-off putting is to suggest that it is still off-putting to a degree.
But you say "from a musical point of view this record is irreprehensible" so you are describing the music in that manner. And I get you were countering what you found to be reprehensible lyrics, but saying that "from a musical standpoint this record is irreprehensible" is kind of a non-sequitor. I just think it's a bad word choice.
Also, I suggest italicizing album names, and putting quotation marks around song titles. Just for formatting it's nicer to look at. And I hope you realize I'm just trying to give constructive criticism, and not trying to bash you.
I am fully aware that ''too unpretentious'' is a kind of paradox, but I believe there is a time and place for those too, and I used that kind of paradox because it's not a criticism commonly aimed at rock bands - to convey how bizarre it is that I have to say that. Do you also have a problem with the expression ''too smart for your own good''? Smart is also a good thing, but it can lead to excess..
I'm not casting off anybody. What I mean by off-putting is a kind of music that takes a while to digest and isn't immediately accessible. A lot of the music I love is like that, but MMJ aren't, simple enough.
As for irreprehensible, whatever. It's not a word that I chose particularly and I could have used dozens of equivalent ones. You can have that!
You're right about formatting. I'm just too lazy. If I do it with word will it show up here?
nah, you gotta do it manually for italicizing, quotations mark will be fine though. And yes, but "too smart for your own good" is a cliche that doesn't even make much sense, nobody fails at life for being too smart, it's usually another flaw. And I know what you were doing with "off-putting" I'm saying that the term has negative connotations which is why I don't think it works.
thebhoy, you've given great tips (to add to some other good ones on my Pink Floyd Is There Anybody Out There? review). I've taken note of some of the suggestions here because they are universally applicable to many, many reviews.