My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges

By: Dennis Cook

Part of rock 'n' roll's endurance is its ability to capture the character of an age. The reason folks are still dropping the needle on Hotel California, Sgt. Pepper and Wish You Were Here is a lethal combination of beautiful craftsmanship, sheer talent AND a flickering glimmer of the Big Picture during their respective moments in time. History is frequently summed up more accurately by a mood than with strict record keeping. Beginning in fear and ending in passionate wailing, My Morning Jacket's fifth studio album, Evil Urges (released June 10 on ATO Records), is this sort of universal skeleton key, opening the dusty rooms in post-millennial America so sunlight can disinfect the mold growing on our infrastructure. It also happens to be a gorgeous, off-handedly seductive stunner that might just make us better people if we listen close enough.

What is what? Man, they got us so scared
Thinkin' we so evil way down under there
Ooh! I made a nasty decision!
To love whoever I want, just a whenever I can

Unquestionably, this is MMJ's most user friendly outing, a song cycle as inviting and repeat worthy as Fleetwood Mac's Rumours or Crosby, Stills & Nash's 1969 debut. Like those classics, the production and arrangements conjure a sustained yet varied spell. Track to track, Jim James and co-producer Joe Chiccarelli (Beck, Café Tacuba, Oingo Boingo, Elton John) create fascinating differences that lure one back over & over, utilizing every aspect of the band in a way that's pointed yet unforced. This feels like more of a group effort than anything else in MMJ's catalog. While James firmly remains their lightning rod, there's a collective intelligence to Evil Urges, from tiny keyboard flares to the brilliant guitar layering to the winning mix of live percussion and drum machines, that suggests a multi-headed beast with one massive heart. Like all the precedents cited above, this feels like a band hitting their full creative stride. Unlike these precedents, there's a lot less drama and drug madness surrounding these guys so we may get to see what a marathon classic looks like rather than the bright sprinters we're used to.

From the cover art to the luxurious strings, there are a number of baroque touches, a certain largeness of spirit and art and what have you that infuse the album with a strange gravitas. As bluntly catchy as the bulk of Evil Urges is there's also sumptuous weight and insight within their smartly crafted riffing and irresistible choruses. While "I'm Amazed" comes on like a summer time French kiss, it also contains barbs about TV stations and what they want us to believe and disbelief at a divided nation. Never programmatic, MMJ merely pulls back the sheet so we can see ourselves as we truly are. If we're disturbed by what we glimpse then maybe, as they suggest in subtle ways, we should change the shape we're in.

Remnants of the empire – artifacts of love
Will I meet the designer, what will he dream up?
Remnants of the empire – gravity awake…
What's held down to the ground next round goes into space
Raising up the empire – innocence and faith -
What will hold you up and what will stand in your way?

Evil Urges is the kind of record where one's favorite cut will likely switch and switch again over the years. Today it's the "peanut butter pudding surprise" of "Highly Suspicious," tomorrow it's the wistful wooing of "Librarian," which takes poor Karen Carpenter by the hand and updates '60s folk troubadour tropes for the Interweb age. Like a chain of islands, each track shines in its own way, stirring memories of Blue Oyster Cult, George Harrison, Cheap Trick, The Bee Gees, E.L.O. and countless others but always landing somewhere uniquely Morning Jacket. Like Ween, these guys know the ins & outs of their ancestors, and both genuflect before and reject tradition. It's a tough balance, to lure and rebel simultaneously, but MMJ manage it, adding light humor to '70s soft rock on "Thank You Too!" (a sort of Glen Campbell hit that never was) and "Sec Walkin" (where they raise Charlie Rich from his velvet tomb) or puncturing pop with metal edge on "Remnants" and "Aluminum Park." James' voice reaches new maturity here, dialing back the reverb and morphing wildly from song to song. It's an emotional nakedness that shows a lot of courage and ultimately pays out huge dividends in extending MMJ's overall range. Here, he swings from a Elton John/Bread orchestral, sensitive guy pop singer on "Smokin From Shootin" to a purring Soft Cell synth boy swinger on "Touch Me I'm Going To Scream Pt. 2," and he sails through both with flying colors.

True artistic success is doing just what you want. While this might stray from the indie clubhouse days of At Dawn it also makes no concessions to a mainstream that would probably suggest they sand away their eccentricities (there is a LOT of Prince-ly falsetto on here). Perfectly pitched between weirdo outsider experimentation and near Beatles level commonality, Evil Urges is a grand album, in all senses of the word. Whether it's the important one it feels like – zeitgeist in a groove – only time well tell. While we wait, the boys from Louisville have given us another hymnbook to sing on our road to nowhere.

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[Published on: 6/17/08]

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Comments

toestothenose starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/17/2008 07:05AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

toestothenose

Lovin' this latest album! Can't wait to hear them interpert it live this fall!

n-1 starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/17/2008 07:23AM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

thanks for the review, now where are the 80 comments? Dont thumbs down me, but, I never really caught on to what makes them as great as they are, I know their good but someone please explain what makes them one of the best bands if not the best band around right now.

n-1 starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/17/2008 07:24AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

props for using the word zeitgeist in a sentence, thats bad A**

andvon Tue 6/17/2008 07:28AM
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andvon

Go see them live, only then will you understand.

GratefulHokie starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/17/2008 07:57AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

GratefulHokie

@Writer - What does it for me is the constant change of pace Jim James brings to his songs and the band. One minute you might be listening to some crazy rock jam...the next may sound like disco! From what I've experienced by introducing my friends to MMJ is that u ually a handful of tracks really jump out at someone. Once you've connected, you want to go back and listen to the older stuff and you realize it's this whole other side to the band but just as good. Then you man up and see them live...and there's no going back. Simply one of the best live performances you'll ever see. (Radio City this Friday!! Can't Wait)

jonrand starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/17/2008 08:04AM
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jonrand

I saw them last night at the Koolhaus in Toronto...UN-F'N-REAL! The new songs sound incredible! To everyone else seeing them on this tour, the place was packed last night. I suggest getting as close to the front as possible because I don't think they're going to be playing these small venues much longer.

CSchneids929 starstarstarstar Tue 6/17/2008 08:05AM
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i think the album is average honestly... first two tracks are real nice then the album kind of falls off for me. Thank you to! and sec walkin are average, then it gets weak until aluminum park where it picks up again. I'm listening to Z right now and the new one doesn't come close

ezzulus Tue 6/17/2008 08:46AM
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ezzulus

Yeah I think Z is the real classic but Evil Urges is an excellent follow up.

FreeHawk Tue 6/17/2008 09:21AM
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FreeHawk

I know ill get some thumbs down, but I just cant get into this album. THe instruments are there and subject matter but Jim James voice kind of stands out more and doesnt blend well like in the past albums for me. Sec Walken and a few others sounds too much like Christopher Cross tunes. Not saying thats a bad thing just not what I expected.I wasnt too big on Z either, but their past albums and EPs will always be in my rotation and the mutha fuckers do rock out live. Good Review Mr. Cook ,you do have a magic way with words.

Muffinman1 Tue 6/17/2008 09:36AM
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Muffinman1

This album changed my view on this band. I really like it and now I will indulge in their entire catalog. Great album!

crowesfan Tue 6/17/2008 10:51AM
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crowesfan

Big Fan of the album can't wait to see them down in Orlando, and for all you people who saw them at bonnaroo all i can say is You Lucky Bastards.

j-bizzle Tue 6/17/2008 11:29AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

j-bizzle

It Still Moves is a classic - Z is a good follow up - Evil Urges = meh.

kirkbrew starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/17/2008 01:00PM
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kirkbrew

Big up to MMJ. If you like it or not, at least it isn't more of the same. I would rather see a band take a chance and miss the mark than keep hittin' home runs with the same-old-same-old.

As far as I'm concerned, it isn't all home runs. A few singles, a few doubles and the worst they do is a base on balls. Great album! I will actually give them money for it.

MaseBase starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/17/2008 01:07PM
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MaseBase

I like this band more because of this album. They've been growing on me, but now it's seriously ON! LOVE the disc.

aaronjl1 Tue 6/17/2008 01:53PM
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aaronjl1

Not that they aren't one of my favorite bands... But I'm honest enough to admit that they do one thing well, and that is play live. It's why I like them. I have all of their albums EU included, and there isn't a classic in the bunch. Most of it's good... just good... nothing any kid 20 years from now will pick up and be inspired to write the next Sgt Pepper. Watching Okonokos 20 years from now may be completely another story.

EU is just a collection of good (maybe even great) songs thrown into a playlist completely devoid of either a discernible thematic or musical progression. Not that I regret my purchase... It's a GOOD album. But let's call a spade a spade... MMJ have yet to find zeitgeist in a groove in the recording studio (even with an ungodly recording budget and an over-the-top marketing push). On the other hand, at least one decent band is getting a mainstream push...

nobodysjam starstarstarstarstar Tue 6/17/2008 06:06PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

nobodysjam

The most dynamic band of road warriors out there-busting hump every night, getting it done the hard way, one show at time, one album at at a time, one convert at a time. The critics got it right for once, these guys are truly legit. Don't let a Zepplin vamp or 2 fool you into pigeon-holing them, I did and almost missed out, what a pity that would have been, but I was patient and dug a little deeper...it's all about their range of artistry-MMJ stand on the shoulders of giants and they move the art form forward, if not two steps so far, at least one.

jimmy row Tue 6/17/2008 08:22PM
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so whats their best album then?

moemoe6434 starstarstarstarstar Wed 6/18/2008 07:02AM
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Going to RCMH on Friday.... Can not wait to hear these songs live!

sschaffner starstarstarstar Wed 6/18/2008 01:38PM
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sschaffner

if you're not sure what makes this band great then there's a good chance that they're simply not for you, or you haven't given them enough of a chance. the new album is good, but it doesn't compare to past efforts such as 'it still moves' or 'Z' (their two best albums in my opinion, which are completely different from each other). close your eyes and reach into the past for one of their beautiful EP's such as 'sweatbees' or 'split'. check out a b-sides release in 'chapter 1' or 'chapeter 2' and let your emotions get dragged out of the closet, thrown against the wall, stepped on, picked back up again, cradled, caressed, and then kicked out the front door. give in to 'the tennesse fire' and listen for the sound of your heart hitting the floor during songs like 'i will be there when you die' or 'by my car'. like them or not these guys are pure, down to earth, honest in everything they do, and jim james is a great songwriting talent with the most dynamic and powerful vocals i've ever heard.

NittyGritty starstarstarstarstar Thu 6/19/2008 08:43AM
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NittyGritty

Awesome album. Highly suspicious is even better live! MMJ for life

thehurricane23 Thu 6/19/2008 04:46PM
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thehurricane23

I've only seen them a handful of times but they BLEW MY MIND at B'roo a few years back before The Word played, I was plenty primed but what a show even though it was during the day on a Sunday. They will bring a wild show for NYE I'm sure.

tourfan starstarstarstarstar Fri 6/20/2008 06:43AM
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A last minute hook up has gotten me a ducate to Radio City tonight. Hell Fkn' Yea !!!!!!!!

BobbyShortcutShows starstarstar Sat 6/21/2008 03:19PM
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BobbyShortcutShows

what i have heard of these fellers' i think is alright but I too don't understand the hubbub about these lads, and yes i've heard their live stuff. nevertheless, i think they do try to grow and that says enough for me. As long as they dig growing they will survive and surprise.

mickey7 starstarstarstarstar Mon 6/23/2008 07:58AM
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Excellent review, excellent cd. To anyone who wonders,,for me it's the mood swings, the emotional journey each cd takes you on, and the live experience. I too saw them last Monday @ Koolhaus in Toronto,,,30 feet from the stage. I haven't been rocked like that in a while. Jumped, sang, fist-pumped the air, and danced my butt off. Going to Rothbury in a couple of weeks and now I'm wishing MMJ were there. As pumped as I am for that fest, I think I might'a seen my "show of the year".