Review Summary: An uneven self-titled effort which encapsulates the band’s storied career
For over two decades, My Morning Jacket has stood alone, more or less. One of the biggest names in the indie sphere, as well as being scions of good old-fashioned rock music, the band has touched on a lot of different styles over the years, including indie meets country/folk on their debut The Tennessee Fire
(eternally both overlooked and underrated), jamming Southern rock on It Still Moves
, and accessible indie-psych on The Waterfall
, with all sorts of variations in between. While the band’s greatest achievements have arguably lay more in the realm of individual songs rather than full albums, the release of a new MMJ record is still an event. This is especially true in this case, being the band’s first LP release of new material since 2015 (last year’s release The Waterfall II
was recorded alongside its predecessor back in 2013).
There are two stereotypical categories for self-titled releases late in an artist’s career: either the album is an impressive work which illuminates everything remarkable about the group in question, or it’s a bland and uninspired piece which sparks jokes about the band not even being able to come up with a creative album title. Without further ado, My Morning Jacket
falls somewhere in between those two extremes. On the bright side, the band clearly still possesses ambition and vision, with a fair amount of variety present and numerous songs (often lengthy) being well-executed and all-around enjoyable. Less impressively, this is an inconsistent collection of tunes which also doesn’t quite have the stylistic cohesion of some of MMJ’s other records. Perhaps this judgment is fitting, as it serves as another demonstration of the group’s genius while also reminding the listener that even the releases during the band’s zenith were never quite flawless.
Opinions may vary, but for this reviewer My Morning Jacket
doesn’t truly hit its stride until the third track, “In Color”, a near masterpiece of shimmering psychedelia, and a rock epic with a ponderous gait similar to Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You”. Album centerpiece “The Devil’s In The Details” also shines, with a placid and minimal backdrop encircling perhaps the LP’s best lyrics, and also distinguished by its spaced-out and vaguely jazzy outro. Finally, closer “I Could Never Get Enough” is a slow-burning, sweetly romantic piece, ending the album on another high note. The aforementioned three tracks are the record’s longest (each over seven minutes in duration), and arguably also the most choice cuts. MMJ has always known how to write a lengthier song, just look at “Phone Went West” or “Lay Low” for proof, let alone nearly every tune from It Still Moves
, and it appears on this album that they thrive when the music is given more room to breathe. This isn’t to say that some of the smaller-scale tunes aren’t great as well though, in particular, the mellow and catchy “Never In The Real World” and divine guitar tone of “Out Of Range, Pt. 2” deserve a mention. However, there are also a few missteps, notably “Love Love Love” with its ultimately tedious funky groove, and “Complex”, which is ironically a fairly uninteresting if competent straightforward rock track.
Comparing My Morning Jacket
to its most recent predecessor, The Waterfall II
will likely prove divisive. Personally, I’d argue that the former reaches higher peaks than the latter, but falters on the question of consistent quality. A good chunk of the songs on MMJ’s latest explore sonic territory familiar to the group’s last few efforts (mellow and accessible psych-tinged indie), but the band deserves kudos for branching out ambitiously here and there. A hallmark of the band’s success throughout their lengthy career has been their notable ability to produce perfect songs in a variety of ways, from a masterpiece of dreamy melancholy like “Butch Cassidy” to the pure rocking bliss of “One Big Holiday” to the ebulliently catchy songcraft of “Anytime”. I’m not sure any of the tracks on this album quite measure up to those classics, but there are several that are close, and the band deserves credit for still swinging for the fences after over twenty years of music-making. My Morning Jacket
hits at times and misses at others, but all told it is a very respectable return for an iconic band.