My Morning Jacket

The first few tracks of My Morning Jacket's fifth studio album, Evil Urges, sound like a cruel put-on, with lead singer Jim James adopting the Prince-inspired falsetto he first toyed with on Z's "Wordless Chorus" for entire songs—only to have it come across more like a bad Ween joke than a recklessly brilliant Beck experiment.

Sure, the band reverts back to more familiar territory as the album progresses, rocking out "Mahgeetah"-style on the propulsive "Aluminum Park" and dabbling in gorgeous, blue-eyed soul on "Sec Walkin'" and the sexy, thoughtful "Librarian," which is easily the disc's best track.

But with the band's trademark gravy-thick reverb dialed down this time around, the ugly truth becomes apparent: When you lift the veil of magical echo that coats most of MMJ's greatest songs, you'll find Jim James, at best, a serviceable lyricist. As he once sang on 2001's near classic At Dawn, "It's just the way that he sings/Not the words that he says, or the band." But, honestly, when James, circa 2008, is busy singing about a "peanut butter pudding surprise" on the frat-party ready "Highly Suspicious" or conjuring an elementary school graduation on the Seals and Crofts-ish "Thank You Too" ("I want to see you for all that you do/I want to thank you") it's hard to give a shit anymore, no matter how pretty it is.

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Noah W. Bailey
Contact: Noah W. Bailey