by Lindsay Eanet
My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James’s bedroom must be a wonderful and frightening place.
It might be the kind of bedroom that would be in a seduction scene in a bad ’70s adult film—he goes into the bathroom to “freshen up” and comes out in a scarlet silk robe, his once long, shaggy beast hair trimmed and refined. He puts a Prince tape on, pours himself a Jack on the rocks and lays his love on a bearskin rug, talking dirty in a wispy falsetto.
OK, so none of that is probably true, but it is what comes to mind when listening to the title track on MMJ’s newest album, Evil Urges. The funk-lite guitar phrases and falsetto moans on “Evil Urges” sound surprisingly tame, but also surprisingly sexy, in comparison to the prog-tastic explosion that was 2005’s Z. But toward the end of the track, the funk peels away to a fuzzy jam interlude, proving the group is still not afraid to bring in multiple movements to one track, still not afraid of guitar scuzz and definitely not afraid to diversify.
The album includes a few highlights early on. Eerie gospel vocals meet space-age synths and shimmers on the downright Floyd-ian “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 1,” a futuristic stoner odyssey that appears to be about a lovesick robot (“I need a human right by my side”). The first potential single, “I’m Amazed,” is Being There-era Wilco slathered in bourbon and BBQ sauce and set ablaze via James’s ignited guitar solos: a bright Southern rock anthem destined to be a festival sing-a-long for ages to come.
While they may not be afraid to experiment, some of the efforts are a little to out there, even for a band as bold and versatile as MMJ. “Highly Suspicious” is an ’80s throwback that sounds like it could be the B-side to “Der Kommisar” and its placement throws off the fluidity of the album. “Suspicious” seems to be a bit of a trend and one of the album’s notable flaws—the band risks continuity and flow for the same of experimentation and diversity, and sometimes will fail.
The middle chunk of the album band fares well with simpler festival rock on tracks like the soulful “Thank You Too!,” where the band’s vocal harmonies shine like a Tenessee sun, or on the poppy “Aluminum Park,” and spare guitar twinges mesh with haunting keyboards and James’s nasal twang on the middle-of-the-road “Librarian.” A mid-album highlight comes along in the breezy “Sec Walkin’,” where James does his best Van Morrison impression amid luminous slide guitar licks.
Urges opens up to the end for a lofty 13-minute epic, combining the woozy country-folk of “Smokin From Shootin” and the atmospheric funk of “Touch Me Pt. 2” to prove on the home stretch that James and co. have not yet lost the magic touch that drew crowds to their festival stages. As for drawing the same crowds to Jim James’s bedroom? We’ll see.