Would you laugh along with me on something? Okay, cool. The Pitchfork review of My Morning Jacket’s Evil Urges says the album, “threatens to squander some of the widespread goodwill” the band has been building throughout their career. So, according to the Pitchfork people (who, by the way, are getting awfully predictable – play me five bars of your favorite band and I will tell you whether or not P-fork likes it. Or, put another way, “Is it Radiohead? Is it Dan Deacon? Is it Sufjan fucking Stevens?” If the answer is yes, P-fork likes it. If not, well, they probably don’t.), My Morning Jacket’s new album is so bad that not only will people not like it, but people will actually have ill wishes towards the band because of it.
Fucking madness. The Pitchfork review of Evil Urges is all, “hurr, no ‘fiery guitar freakouts,’ not enough reverb, too much falsetto, blah blah blah sellouts blah blah blah ‘yacht-pop'”. I feel it’s necessary to address this because Evil Urges is a fucking awesome album. If you’ve listened to My Morning Jacket since The Tennessee Fire and especially up through 2005’s stellar Z, you might see Evil Urges as a further synthesis of My Morning Jacket’s myriad influences. Pitchfork is pre-bristling at this album because someone somewhere said (I think it was in Blender or some equally shitty music rag) that this album was supposed to take MMJ to the “next level.” Read the interview with Jim James over at the Onion AV Club for his take on that (great interview, by the way).
The album opens with the title track which is heavy on the reggae and Prince influence, and features James singing in a wicked falsetto about how loving people is not evil, no matter what certain other parties might tell you (I take “Evil Urges”, at least in part, as Jim James’ declaration that consenting adults ought to be able to fuck and marry other consenting adults of any and all flavors without the government or church raising a fuss – it’s a highly enlightened stand to take).
“Highly Suspicious” is another song that P-fork takes issue with, calling it “eye-poppingly annoying” (P-fork, in fact, seems to blame “Highly Suspicious” for what they perceive as this album’s failure to live up to its predecessors). And it’s a pretty obnoxious song, but I kinda like that about it. What can I say? “Free Radicals” is one of my favorite songs on The Flaming Lips At War With the Mystics, an album and song that similar drew the ire of the P-fork kids. “Highly Suspicious” has some dumb lyrics, but the guitar freakout (apparently unnoticed by Pitchforkmedia) at the end is priceless and maybe it’s the times in which we live, but there’s something appealing to me about Ol’ Jim giggling “I’m Hiiiiiiigh” while the background vocals say, all military-chant style, “Highly suspicious”. It creates the suggestion that one must be high to believe we should be as paranoid as our current administration would have us be.
Where genre is concerned, Evil Urges skips around a lot more than previous MMJ outings. Z was their Flaming Lips record, all spacey and weird, and “Evil Urges” and “Highly Suspicious” fit well with the songs on that album but songs like “Librarian” have no precedent in the My Morning Jacket canon. Taken on the whole, Evil Urges is something I’ll call “Kentucky Fried Space Soul” – it draws heavily on Jim James’ impeccable taste in R&B (read the AV Club interview – he sings the praises of Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield and their influence on this record is obvious). Perhaps, then, what is baffling to the Pitchfork crew about this album is that it would be (as many MMJ albums are) a great soundtrack for getting it on. I’m assuming here that Pitchfork people are too busy loving themselves and Radiohead to ever actually copulate.
There’s been some talk in the early reviews about the music obscuring (or, according to Pitchfork, mangling) Jim James’ super awesome voice. This is a criticism I don’t fully understand, perhaps because I have ears and can hear. True, his voice is not drenched in the traditional reverb (and don’t get me wrong, I love the reverbtasticness of “Off the Record” and basically everything on At Dawn) but I think it’s a great choice – his voice is naked on “Sec Walkin'” and “Two Halves” and it’s something I’ve never heard from them before. Jim James has one of the best voices in music and it’s nice to hear it stand on its own – especially on “Librarian,” where James gives us a hint of what a solo album might sound like from R.E.M.’s Mike Mills (the greatest background vocalist in rock).
Don’t misunderstand – I love this album, but it is not perfect. “I’m Amazed” gets stuck in my head but I’m not sure I like it; though I don’t doubt the earnestness of James’ asking “Where’s the justice?” it still sounds a little tossed-off and radio-friendly. But on balance, this album is a lot leaner and tighter than most of their other records, with the exception of the ten-track masterpiece Z. Pitchfork dings James for using the word “interweb” in “Librarian,” which only shows that they’ve never read a post on MMJ’s website; James talks funny and “interweb” is perfectly acceptable to me but then I’m not prone to hating albums because they might be popular (cop to it, P-forkers – you guys actually said David Bowie’s Low was the best album of the ’70’s, a ballsy contrarian move to be sure, but if you look at things honestly you’ll see that either Hunky Dory or The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was the best album of the 1970’s. It’s okay to like things that other people like).
So to recap this dual review: My Morning Jacket’s Evil Urges is a beautiful new album from one of the best rock bands in the country and Pitchfork’s review of Evil Urges is a middling review at best, coining inappropriate phrases like “yacht-pop” and accusing one of the most stalwartly individual bands in recent memory of “aiming for the Starbucks carousel with rootsy New Age romanticism.” For some less pretentious reporting on My Morning Jacket, pop over to the Onion’s AV Club and read their interview with Jim James and their review of Evil Urges. Also, lest I be accused of hating, Pitchfork actually wrote my favorite album review of all time, for Jet’s Shine On album: