Regardless of the various genres and subgenres that one can place on the ambitious Kentucky quintet, influences are worn right on My Morning Jacket’s sleeves. The influence of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the band, Neil Young, and even Prince are all present on Evil Urges, their follow up to 2003’s critically acclaimed Z, thus the band still remains an unclassifiable force. It is difficult to talk about the evolution of a band from one simple subgenre to a confused state of genre synergy without drawing parallels to Radiohead. With Z, MMJ showed listeners that they were not just a simple southern rock outfit, similar to how Kid A and Ok Computer introduced Radiohead as an innovative and powerful force in rock, instead of previously labeled common Britpop. With Z came drum machines, heavy synth, and a range of genres from dub reggae to circus music, distinguishing My Morning Jacket from their Americana counterparts. On Evil Urges, they further emulate the Radiohead formula by confusing their fans. Evil is highly unclassifiable and a further, yet steady departure from the hazy, distortion tinged, southern rock that occupied It Still Moves, At Dawn, and The Tennessee Fire. There was always something a little special about My Morning Jacket from the beginning, something that separated them from the rest of the pack, but it is becoming more and more evident with each album. Much like Kid A and Amnesiac, Evil Urges, takes some getting used to.
When expecting a release from a band you love for various reasons, a fan hopes that the new album will reinforce those feelings. If innovation and experimentation are reasons a fan loves My Morning Jacket, then they can look no further than Evil Urges for that reinforcement. If this is not the case, the new effort could take many listens before a decision is made. Take front man Jim James’ new vocal style on songs like “Highly Suspicious” and “Evil Urges,” where James evokes Prince and Jerry Garcia simultaneously. There is definitely an R&B feel to Evil Urges, but the southern rock undertones are still ever-present. Jim James alternates personalities from song to song, which makes for an interesting ride through styles.
If there is anything negative to say about the album, it is the lack of cohesiveness. With so many different styles it is hard to make the songs seem fitting beside one another. Songs like the robotic yelling infused “Highly Suspicious” almost resemble cuts from The Wall, whereas tracks like “I’m Amazed” and “Thank You Too” could have easily been written by The Band. “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream” part 1 resembles an 80s pop song, filled with purposefully cheesy synth and drum machines. The variety, however, does not bring down the album and it flows smoothly.
It is the type of album that initially begs a question similar to my dad’s response when I asked him what he thought, “Why’s he singing like that!?” Why a band would try something new, instead of just sticking with what they are good at. With every listen the album takes shape and becomes just another example of why this question is unanswerable, when a band is good at everything they try.
When all is said and done Evil Urges is a great album filled with all sorts of, to quote “Highly Suspicious,” “Peanut butter pudding surprise[s].” I don’t know what that means, but I want one, and after listening to this album, so will you.