REVIEW: My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges


Many people have generalized that a band from Kentucky would have little variation in their style, clinging onto the stereotypical blend of country-rock and folk that has plagued the most common description of the southern music scene in America for the past several decades. And while southern rock music has certainly found a niche of resounding success in the independent music scene with acts like Band of Horses, Drive-By Truckers, and Kings of Leon, there has been prevalent criticism regarding the lack of eclecticism and unconventional techniques within the genre. As arguably the most consistent and influential rock band hailing from the south of the past decade, it would make sense for a band like My Morning Jacket to clear up such baseless beliefs. The five-piece from Louisville has always been regarded as somewhat of a patriarchal figure within the genre, as it seems that My Morning Jacket expands their stylistic boundaries with each newly successive release. With the internet allowing fluid access to thousands of unqualified individuals who call themselves critics of art, we live in an age where most artists are too afraid to change or even toy with a new approach to their sound, as the fear of losing an entire fan base and witnessing a critical backlash is often too much to handle. With that in mind, I was not surprised at all when I heard Evil Urges, My Morning Jacket’s fifth studio album, and found it to be the group’s most diversifying effort yet. But would I have expected Jim James, the bold and fearless frontman for the group, to be flaunting his falsetto for a handful of tracks? Hell no. But per usual, regardless of what this band attempts lately, it has resulted in an ample success.

As it stood before the production phase of Evil Urges, My Morning Jacket had little reason to try anything new at all. After all, their previous album, Z, was one of the most critically acclaimed albums of 2005 and was prematurely being described by many as the group at their creative peak. I suppose the acclaim was imminent at the time, as it was their most varied effort before the release of Evil Urges. Their first two albums, The Tennessee Fire and At Dawn, brought the group plenty of buzz but they found it initially difficult to escape the linear classifications of alt-country that critics granted them, mainly due to the determinable sound that James and company were just beginning to confidently grasp. Though not as consistent in quality with the first two albums, It Still Moves was the group’s first step in their ambitions to become a rock act where stylistic classifications were made on a per-song basis and not based on a singular career. Z simply perfected James’ approach as an impressively unpredictable songwriter, mixing anthemic indie-rock tracks like “Anytime” and “Lay Low” with tinges of reggae in “Off the Record” and reminiscences of their classic alternative sound in the opening “Wordless Chorus”. Even if the increased eclecticism was subtle for many listeners, the changes were evident for veteran fans. In a matter of 6 years, My Morning Jacket evolved from just another alt-country band into something of bigger, more epic proportions. Instead of sticking with southern stereotypes, comparisons were being made to The Flaming Lips and R.E.M, both artists who – in a sense – revolutionized the way that modern artists in their respective genres would tackle songwriting. And with the release of Evil Urges, such commendable sentiments are stronger than ever.

Like several My Morning Jacket albums before it, the opening track on Evil Urges serves as a gradually satisfying experience that increases in memorability with each successive listen. Also serving as the self-titled track, the heightened pitch in James’ vocals during “Evil Urges” will catch listeners off guard initially, but the summery guitar progression and brisk rhythm section will soothe any concerns about the track going stylistically overboard. As James’ vocals become more familiar and the rebounding melody begins to engross the listener, sudden enhancements like the slight dosage of strings during the chorus’ second entry become more noticeable and rewarding. Like preceding greats in the vein of “Anytime” and “One Big Holiday”, it concludes gracefully with a stirringly effective guitar solo before the infectious chorus is recapped once more. The following track, “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream”, is unlike anything My Morning Jacket have attempted before, utilizing a synth line as the primary instrumental force. The synths clash fluidly over a constant bass line, bringing up unlikely comparisons to Prince and The Flaming Lips in the process. I guess you could call the soothing key-aided “It Beats For You” a distant cousin, but even that particular track had guitar-led arrangements that were expected of the band. If it were not for James’ distinctively soaring vocals, many would not be able to tell that “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream” was from My Morning Jacket at all. It remains oddly addictive though, even if the style contained in the track and its 8-minute counterpart (“part two”) differs dramatically from the rest of the album.

It was certainly an odd choice to stick “Evil Urges”, “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream”, and “Highly Suspicious” as the first three tracks on Evil Urges, as they can arguably stand as My Morning Jacket’s most unconventional efforts to date. “Highly Suspicious” is inarguably the most bizarre on the album, led by hardly much more than James’ apparent falsetto, a booming bass line, and steady percussion. The chorus adds a few halted guitar chords as James and a few deeper-voiced companions chant “highly suspicious!” over the eventual whirring of a synth. Being the second track in a row that reminds me of Prince (and enjoyably so), I would not be surprised if the majority of listeners refuse to take it seriously. And hey, who’s to blame them? Looking back, the decision appears wise to slot these 3 tracks together, as the rest of the album contains a similar degree of variation that is more conventional in regard to My Morning Jacket’s stylistic standards. The fourth track, “I’m Amazed”, immediately puts the listener back in the warm embrace of classic My Morning Jacket, re-introducing James’ distinctive croon as was heard in the first four albums. Like “Anytime”, it proves further that James’ ability to write an anthemic track – regardless of whether its in the vein of indie-rock or alt-country – is something of a rare skill. The first two minutes consist purely of radio-friendly alternative, with the remainder being a captivating guitar solo that coincides precisely with the backing chorus. In terms of tracks that would fit just as well on early My Morning Jacket material, only the strangely nostalgic “Smokin’ From Shootin'” and simplistically endearing “Look At You” come close. It ends up being commendable though, as I have not even touched upon the best moments of Evil Urges yet.

Jim James clarified in an interview several months ago that “I’m Amazed” would begin the “second phase” of the album, following the first three tracks that somehow went “together in this weird way.” The group has been known to perform with fully accompanied orchestras during their live performances lately, and several excellent tracks during the “second phase” like “Sec Walkin'”, “Librarian”, and “Thank You Too” utilize this new approach with confidence, swagger, and resounding success. “Sec Walkin'” manages to recall classic country with the overlapping of reverbed keys and guitars as James puts his full southern accent on the table, deepening his voice to a suave croon with contained influences of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and Carl Perkins. “Thank You Too” sports the album’s most grandiose chorus, supplemented by a swirling arrangement of strings and James’ limitless vocal range. And as oddly creepy as the lyrical content is, the build-up of strings in “Libraries” is too masterfully executed to ignore. The insanely catchy “Two Halves” recalls an accessible, pop-oriented Roy Orbison in its recollection of ’60s rock ‘n’ roll, serving as the most immediately satisfying track on the album. It is in close competition with “Aluminum Park” though, a roaring rock ‘n’ roll ditty in which James into some ardent hybrid of Springsteen and Meat Loaf during the song’s exceptional chorus. All of the influences may be hard to classify initially, but one thing is for certain; My Morning Jacket are proud to wear their influences on their sleeves. And when a band of My Morning Jacket’s ingenious talent has the maturity to embrace their past influences and implement them fluidly into a contemporary sound, the result sounds something like Evil Urges. It is working its way into becoming my favorite album from My Morning Jacket, making it certainly one of my favorites for the year as well. 9/10


My Morning Jacket – Two Halves



My Morning Jacket – Sec Walkin’



My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges



Official Web Site



Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine.

Send your music to [email protected].


  1. You may want to update the photo to include the current lineup with Bo & Carl 🙂

  2. Nice review. And maybe the first one I’ve seen that didn’t have a few problems because it doesn’t sound exactly (or in some cases, at all) like their previous albums.

  3. This is a fantastic review and I completely agree with everything you’ve said. MMJ have a way of defying your expectations and they’ve done it once again with Evil Urges. This somehow manages to sound like a follow up to Z and It Still Moves at the same time, combining everything they’ve done before into a very tight and focused package without sounding like a rehash. I hope it gets fantastic reviews, although I have a feeling it might alienate a few people, because it really is their best album which is something I never thought I’d never say after the amazing Z.

  4. I love it all except for Highly Suspicious. It may take a few more listens to catch on, but the first few times I cringed (and died inside a little bit). I even tried listening to it without taking it seriously but I can’t say that I enjoyed it then either. Good review nonetheless, and I agree 100% that it was wise to stick the first 3 tracks together as the rest of the album is more “conventional” MMJ.

  5. I actually haven’t heard a My Morning Jacket album since It Still Moves which is strange since I really like that album. I need to catch up on them.

  6. Great review. This album is absolutely incredible (Highly Suspicious included).

  7. Are you guys kidding? This album is HORRIBLE. This is the same downward spiral I witnessed after Wilco’s killer album Being There. Seriously, James sounds like Prince in a few tracks.

  8. I like the songs I’ve heard (except Highly Suspicious, which is the worst MMJ song ever), but what’s the the really deep Cookie Monster voice they’re doing? Evil Urges was one of the best song’s they’ve ever done and then all of the sudden that voice comes out of nowhere- “I’m ready for it nowwww…”

    FAIL. If they hadn’t added that it would have been a 10/10. Hopefully it’s not in any other songs.

  9. I really do not see how everyone thinks “Highly Suspicious” is so bad. I have been listening to MMJ for a while now and I really welcome the change. Its good to see a band so comfortable that they can have fun on tracks like that. Also, I think when Jim James sings “I’m ready for it now…” on Evil Urges, it is great and you can really feel it. The whole album is amazing with the exception of “Look at You”, and maybe “Thank You Too”. They are the best band in America bar none.

  10. To me the album sounds like a 70’s jukebox, with everything from Sly and Earth Wind and Fire funk to 70’s country rock and Boz Scaggs style white boy soul. Any time a band goes out on a limb and keeps their integrity and chops intact, it’s a good thing.

  11. Im in agreement Ben. On first listen, I thought ‘wtf?!?’ but after a couple more listens and hearing JJ talk about how its about British cops knocking on doors and being ‘highly suspicious of you’, I like it even more.

    I already think it’s better than Z which had some great ones but nearly as many misses. Im not so sure it will surpass It Still Moves or At Dawn for me, but I like what Ive heard and as a pure ‘album’ and front to back listenability, it very well might surpass thos 2 classics.

    I like that everyone’s digging this album for the most part too, except “What happened to MMJ?!” which to me gladly made his opinion irrelevant since he said Wilco’s been on a downward spiral since Being There, when even I know as a casual Wilco fan Summerteeth is hands down their best. Good one

  12. I really don’t understand you people. I LOVED evrything MMJ and Jim James crafted in those years, It Still Moves it’s still in my car stereo regularly and Z too. But that album is one of the biggest delusions of my musical life. It’s fucking FM Rock with no appeal to the masses. Because the only reason Jim & Co. would have choose those sounds and generally, that smooth approach left me depressed. I could undesìrstand if you choose to make money and sell out to music biz, but those songs are not suited for the charts too. Crippled and sometime awkward too. I’m still shocked, maybe two three tunes to save, the rest is pure shit. And you have idea how much it costs me to write this word besides MMJ.

  13. hey Ben never heard about something called “personal tastes”? I’m not trying to change your point of view on this, is just it’s shocking for me THAT sudden change in sounds and song structure. If you like it better for you, i would like to enjoy it too. And you don’t know how i would.

  14. I agree with you simeone that everyone has different tastes in music. I just disagree with the derogatory way you described the album such as saying it is “pure shit.” And yes the album art is horrible.

  15. This album is definitely not crap. In actuality, they just proved they have no ceiling at all; variety of sound, Jim James’ vocal ability, all of it is limitless for me at this point. The only other band of this era I would say that about is Radiohead.

  16. comparing Radiohead and MMJ makes no sense. They’re two different things, born in two different musical humus, and evolving in different ways. I like them both, but Radiohead evolution is far beyond what Jim & Co. could do. Just compare Ok Computer/Kid A and Rainbow. Then try to do the same with At Dawn/Z and this Evil Urges. Do you still think the comparison makes sense?

  17. I think it is a pretty good comparison. Yes they are different musically, but in terms of their evolution, they are very similar. Both bands like to reinvent their styles and try new things. I personally like MMJ better because Radiohead is a little darker, but not in a bad way. They are both excellent bands and are leagues ahead of any other band out right now.

  18. Couldn’t agree more with what you said. I saw their now legendary set at Bonnaroo a few weeks ago and needless to say it blew me away.

    great review, keep up the good work!

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