Even Without the Muppets, My Morning Jacket is Fucking Awesome

Around the time My Morning Jacket’s Circuital was announced, I read that the band was supposed to have collaborated with the Muppets on some sort of TV/film project. The very idea gave me goosebumps (to be honest: by “goosebumps,” I mean “a massive boner”), but then I read that the project got scrapped when the brilliant executive who conceived of it was fired. I want you to read that sentence again and try to absorb the full meaning: the dude who dreamed up a filmed collaboration between My Morning Jacket and the Muppets was fired for his trouble. Imagine coming up with what is possibly the best idea ever and having your boss go, “Yeah, we’re gonna go ahead and fire you now.”

I think it’d go something like this:

You: Hey boss, I just invented a jelly donut that cures AIDS.

Your Boss: Get the fuck out of my office before I have you killed (pushes a button that releases chainsaw-wielding bears).

In short, there is no justice in this cruel, cruel world. But, fortunately for us, My Morning Jacket took some of the would-be Muppet songs and put them together with some other new songs. They called this Muppetless mass of music Circuital and if you listen to it, two things will become readily apparent: 1) The songs on this album (especially “Holdin’ On to Black Metal”) would be totally perfect if you filmed the band performing them with some Muppets and 2) Six albums into their career, My Morning Jacket is just really fucking awesome.

There is this lie floating around about My Morning Jacket that they are great live but perhaps not-so-great in the studio (you might expect me to call this a myth, but “myth” is not synonymous with “lie.” Read your Joseph Campbell, goddammit). Words like “divisive” are used to describe their recent work, including 2008’s stellar Evil Urges. The truth is that My Morning Jacket is a mind-blowingly badass live band, but their albums are beautiful in their own right. A My Morning Jacket album should – and will – make you want to see them live, but I think most albums by most bands should make you want to see them live (I know there are bands that can be really great just as studio bands, but I like to know a band can do live what they did in the studio; it helps me to feel like I’m not being tricked by feats of intelligent engineering).

Circuital as an album is pretty great, even sans Muppets. It has Jim James and his trademark soaring vocals, for starters. Though I might be in the minority here, I think James’s voice gets more versatile with each My Morning Jacket release – he does the giggly falsetto thing, he growls, shouts, and basically tears shit up. I think it’s safe to say that Circuital finds him singing some of the best melodies of his storied career (And that’s saying something. Remember, this guy sang “The Way that He Sings,” a song that has probably the best backing vocal melody ever). It has the awesome guitar work (courtesy of Mr. James and Carl Broemel) that has been the cornerstone of My Morning Jacket music since the beginning; it’s true that the guitar hasn’t been as prominent on their albums since It Still Moves, but it’s always been an awesome and integral part of what they do. Though there’s nothing here for the Yngwie fans (themselves called “Yngwies” here at Bollocks! HQ), there are some dazzling guitar textures on Circuital (especially near the end of “You Wanna Freak Out,” which has a fuzzed-out electric guitar dueling with a pedal steel).

Part of the obvious damn shame of My Morning Jacket not working with the Muppets is the fact, apparent to anyone who has observed this band in concert, that Jim James very clearly is equal parts bear, wizard, and Muppet. He plays and writes music in the truest possible sense of the word “play,” which might be why My Morning Jacket’s lyrics come across as a little goofy when viewed on a page. I think the proof in Circuital‘s pudding is probably “Holdin’ On to Black Metal,” a song that Pitchfork writer Amanda Petrusich (whose opinions I actually respect quite a bit. She wrote a book last year called It Still Moves that I’ve been trying to track down since the minute it came out) says “alternates between pleasantly spirited and genuinely stupid.” I don’t necessarily disagree with her but I wonder if she might agree with my assertion that Jim James has some sort of intangible, awesome quality that allows him to get away with goofy-ass lyrics for which we would not forgive lesser artists. Because “Holdin’ On to Black Metal” is one of my favorite songs on the album. Perhaps it’s his voice, which is one of the finest in all of rock ‘n’ roll, or perhaps it’s the formidable music that backs up his lyrics, which are often deadly simple when they’re not clowning around.

If you’re getting the impression that My Morning Jacket is far greater than the sum of their parts, I’d have to say that you’re on the right track with that impression. You just have to remember that the sum of their parts is pretty mighty to begin with. On its surface, Circuital is pretty breezy summer rock, another great My Morning Jacket record for cranking up and cruising down the highway. But repeated listens reveal what I’ve always loved about this band: an ability to celebrate not childlike innocence (which would be boring and probably too cute for my tastes) but childlike wonder, a sense of playful interaction with the world and people in it. That spirit is what our daily grind tries to crush out of us and once you lose it, I’m guessing that you’ll find it’s not your innocence that you’ve lost so much as your sense of humor. And when that’s gone, you might end up the kind of person who would fire a guy for suggesting something as ball-tighteningly badass as a collaboration between My Morning Jacket and the Muppets.

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3 thoughts on “Even Without the Muppets, My Morning Jacket is Fucking Awesome

  1. Funny enough, the song that’s taken the longest to grow on my is the title track. I pretty much fell in love with everything else immediately.

    This is another of those albums (like Evil Urges or The New Pornographers Together) where I get to the end of and just start it over, and over, and over.

  2. Pingback: Warning: My Morning Jacket May Result in Unintended Pregnancy « Bollocks!

  3. Pingback: Highway Music « Bollocks!

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