By Michael Petitti
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 20, 2005
These are hard times for music critics hoping to use their venomous pen. Looking to take a hard stand on former critical darlings, critics have been stymied by the excess of good to great releases by the likes of Franz Ferdinand, New Pornographers and Mr. West (among others). They're running the risk of looking soft and bands like My Morning Jacket don't seem to care.
After releasing 2003's ode to southern rock, It Still Moves, My Morning Jacket began working on Z, their "departure" album. Critics' eyebrows perked up as that word is often synonymous with "disaster."
The album opens with the synth bumps of "Wordless Chorus," and it becomes immediately clear that My Morning Jacket is evolving. Jim James' voice is still Southern goodness as it radiantly soars over a wordless chorus. Gone are the guitar assaults, in are the electronic flourishes. The first single, "Gideon," is the album's mission statement, a perfect synthesis of MMJ past and present with floating guitar arpeggios and ambient electronics coming together for a sound that is pure bliss.
Consistently, Z hits the mark. "What a Wonderful Man" morphs from its groovy piano opening to a rollicking guitar jam. "Off the Record" begins with the guitar line lifted from "Secret Agent Man" before settling into a bouncy surf-guitar rocker with a funky chorus: "You've got to know to rearrange it/Keep it/Off the record/Off the record."
My Morning Jacket
"Anytime" is a thundering piece of music that is more pop than rock, but the fuzzed out guitars are too good to resist. On the album closer, "Dondante," the music drops out midway through with only a gently played guitar line that is so airless it's transparent. Without warning, the song rips back open with James' soaring vocals and a swell of guitar fury breaking the silence. The lull turns listeners into a musical patsy and they will love it, finding themselves replaying the song to be tricked again and again.
Z's flaws are easily overlooked at the expense of just putting on an album for pure enjoyment (Side note: Z is possibly the best driving album of the year). Some tracks, like the folksy "Knot Comes Loose" and the by-the-numbers deep fried rocker "Lay Low," don't grab the listeners as solidly as others, but both still top most of what's out there.
Also, James' lyrics, which have never been remarkable, are occasionally weak as in "What a Wonderful Man" ("I was wanting some 'ice cream.'/He knew exactly what I meant"). Or just plain goofy (and too revealing) like in the creepy, experimental "In the Woods" ("A good shower head/And my right hand/The two best lovers that I ever had").
On Z, the beast that is My Morning Jacket continues to baffle music critics and casual fans alike as they seamlessly evolve from Southern rockers to Southern-folk-country-experimentalist rockers. This, of course, continues to frustrate music critics who are already starting to look too damn soft.