Ditching the reverb-soaked, elliptically inclined tunes of yore for a more adult-contemporary, direct approach to songwriting, singer/guitarist Jim James seems to have made an album that caters more to personal preferences than the exploratory songwriting we have come to expect from the group. “Sec Walking” could easily be a Sweet Baby James-era James Taylor track, all the while offering very little lyrically with its banally sentimental refrain of “Brother, do you care?” And although a healthy departure in sound generally lends itself to the revitalization of a band, the departures found in Evil Urges feel more like intentional copycat throwbacks, sans the eyewinks and irony.
Furthering the maddeningly stale dose of “Haven’t we heard this before?” is “Highly Suspicious,” where James dons a grating falsetto against Robert Palmer-reminiscent guitars and a very '80s all-male chant of the song’s title. This is something we’ve not previously heard from My Morning Jacket for sure, but it’s a peculiarly dated-sounding direction for a band who has penned such singular, timeless songs as “It Beats for You,” “Steam Engine,” and “Dondante.”
Unfortunately, much of the bulk of the album consists of mid-tempo, slickly produced songs that too often veer into easy-listening territory. “Thank You, Too” and “Look at You” not only fail to engage but, worse yet, begin to sound too saccharine for their own good after repeated listens. And although the much-needed blast of “Aluminum Park” and momentous riffs of “Remnants” provide a fire to Evil Urges otherwise not found, it feels too little, too late.
But at the same time, tracks like “I’m Amazed” and “Librarian” rank among the band's best, and “Aluminum Park” and “Remnants” and maybe even “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Part 1” will be welcome additions to future live gigs. And it is difficult not to appreciate James's earnest effort in not only using the recording studio as a tool to better his music but also for taking risks with Evil Urges. Ultimately, though, this is a definite misfire in an otherwise impeccable career.
This highly anticipated album from My Morning Jacket finds Jim James and company straying even farther from their Southern-rock roots than they did on 2005's Z. James (who did some Dylan on the I'm Not There soundtrack) revisits his Prince-like upper register on "Highly Suspicious" and the title track, then flirts with a bookish type on "Librarian." "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Pt. 2" is a whirling dervish of a sonic freak-out. But things aren't all new and weird on Evil Urges. My Morning Jacket can still crank out a polished piece of anthemic, sing-a-long rock when the Kentucky-bred band wants to, as it does with "I'm Amazed." James produced the album with Joe Chicarelli, who has also worked with Brian Wilson and the White Stripes.