Their fifth studio album finds My Morning Jacket attempting to fulfill their urge to not be evilly defined solely by one genre. They’ve banked on the same aesthetic for awhile: change is not only expected by this juncture, it’s generally welcomed.
The first single and opener, “Evil Urges,” is both misleading and indicative of where My Morning Jacket goes with this album. On the one hand, the band explores new styles (such as the surf-rock air of this song), but on the other hand, this isn’t a complete reinvention. Like so many bands releasing albums this year, My Morning Jacket tries on new styles, but they haven’t completely let go of what’s worked for them thus far.
As a result, Evil Urges feels a little uneven, musically. They’ve incorporated more synths and electronic parts (most notably in the killer two-parter, “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream, Pt. 1” and “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream, Pt. 2”), which sounds like a strange combination in concept, but works naturally in practice. Then there’s “Highly Suspicious,” which causes one to be highly suspicious indeed of who the hell thought this song was a good idea. Instead of classic rock refitted, it’s classic rock parodied, the kind of song that, with its ridiculously pushed vocals, conjures up thoughts of My Morning Jacket starring as Spinal Tap.
More surprise waits at the mid-point. At first, “Thank You Too!” sounds like it could’ve been on Z with its languid quality, but then the strings kick in, and before long it starts to sound like the soft side of AOR. Like much of that material, it’s fun and catchy, but sappy. Very sappy. And if that wasn’t enough, “Sec Walkin'” keeps the AOR party going by being even smoother than its predecessor. It will not be surprising if Jim James finds Michael McDonald standing at his doorstep soon.
The most charming appropriation is “Two Halves,” aesthetically inspired by old teen ballads for a song about the urge to grow up when you’re younger. “Well when you’re so young, you want to be older / and when you’re older, you’ll want the body you have now,” they warn.
Not to discourage experimentation, but most of what stands out on Evil Urges is the material that’s most akin to what’s worked for My Morning Jacket in the past. Thus far in their career, they’re a rare case of a band that’s best when they deliver what’s expected. “Librarian” and “Smokin’ from Shootin'” have that soft, steady beat with gentle, sustained singing and quietly wailing guitar combo that they’ve perfected over the years. “Librarian” is particularly noteworthy for its part in the Evil Urges theme that blankets the lyrical content, in this case attacking the urge to conform to social standards of acceptable beauty or appearance, citing Karen Carpenter as a tragic example: “Karen of the Carpenters / singing in the rain / another lovely victim of the mirror’s evil way.”
Though Evil Urges may be disjointed musically, it’s the theme of urges running throughout the album that provides its cohesion. Nearly every song openly addresses a desire, whether it’s wanting sex (“Touch Me…” Pts 1 & 2), wanting answers (“Smokin’ from Shootin'”), wanting to start anew (“Remnants”), or wanting to have faith in someone (“Look At You”). “Concept” is often treated like a dirty word in music, but with Evil Urges, it’s the concept that keeps this album on the good side of the fence.