R&B grooves, Prince-worthy vocal seduction, robotic verses cribbed from an old house-music mix — these strange noises and more can be heard within the first three tracks of Evil Urges, My Morning Jacket‘s fifth offering. ”It ain’t evil if it ain’t hurting anybody,” sings frontman-songwriter Jim James on the title track — and over the course of 13 lyrical landscapes, he crushes on librarians, begs to be touched, then bemoans the harm he’s done. The cumulative result is an exhilarating, bone-deep experience — a true album, built for sustained listening. Further freeing themselves from the Southern-rock box to which critics confined them, MMJ remain on the trail they blazed with 2005’s eclectic Z. As they rocket into the distance with little concern for genre, their only goal appears to be transporting us all with the power of freakin’ great songs.
A quick reassurance to devoted fans: The band’s trademark sunset warmth still abides amid these sonic explorations. It’s in the harmonies of ”Thank You Too!,” in the vibe borrowed from James’ Monsters of Folk buddy M. Ward on the steady ”Sec Walkin,” in the fiery yelps of ”Aluminum Park.”
”I’m Amazed,” meanwhile, features a glistening intro — GN’R’s ”Paradise City” as interpreted by people who spend more time around trees — only to spread into a ruined reverie. ”I’m amazed at the TV stations/I’m amazed what they want me to believe,” sings James, his remarkable voice reverb-free. ”Where is the justice?” It’s gleeful and morose at the same time, depression masked in melody.
But how to react to the urbane loneliness of ”Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 1” or the throbbing nonsense funk of ”Highly Suspicious”? The latter is easily one of the biggest where-the-eff-did-that-come-from tracks by any established group in recent memory, and it would read as a schizophrenic break were it not so wholehearted, right down to James’ rubbery cackle-turned-piercing wail.
Besides that whammy-bar bonanza, the end of Urges holds our journey’s choicest payoff, as the haunting monologue of ”Smokin From Shootin” dissolves into the album’s bookend, ”Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pt. 2.”
Beginning with a rumble, ”Pt. 2” erupts into police sirens that, in turn, fade into the rhythmic space-ghost tinkling of an Omnichord — like a child’s toy piano gone goth. ”This feeling is wonderful! Don’t you ever turn it off!” James pleads over insistent dance-floor drums, before the hypnotic refrain ends in a shriek. Then a voice in the background proves that despite all the recent sophistication, no one’s forgotten their scruffy roots: ”Okay, cool,” it says, before snapping into silence. Dude, seriously. A
DOWNLOAD THIS: See the video for ”I’m Amazed” on YouTube