Music Reviews

My Morning Jacket Circuital

(ATO) Rating - 3/10

Let me be clear:  My Morning Jacket was once a band whose records could be enjoyed without the necessity of seeing them live. Granted, their entrancing and energetic lives shows have established them as a festival staple and the destination for hoards of stoner college kids. But there was a time that MMJ grew on you with their albums, from their 1999 debut The Tennessee Fire up to 2005’s Z. Then comes the wretched year of 2008, when we are left with the generic and directionless Evil Urges. It seemed that the proverbial deal had been struck, and MMJ had traded the beloved guitar freakouts and homegrown production of their previous albums for the generic fodder that passes for, as one particular reviewer raved, “summer jams.” If Evil Urges was an album of “summer jams,” then summer is indeed the season of the commercially bland and accessible. 

I cannot say that I went into listening to Circuital without expecting an Evil Urges Pt. 2 – hence my surprise at album opener Victory Dance. Introducing moody theatrics into the MMJ canon that gained Nick Cave his notoriety in the nineties, it’s a dark bluesy chant that crescendos into a monstrous freakout finish. As I’m listening, I’m hoping that there is some restraint from the glazed-over, sugarcoated cheekiness that permeated on Evil Urges. And while I’m not wild about the slick production on the title track, Circuital is a mild seven-minute jam that does justice for the spirit of early MMJ. The Day is Coming is the finish of this tolerable streak, finding a steady balance between the recent MMJ pop fixation and their atmospheric, reverb-heavy signature. As much as I enjoyed this opening, it’s all downhill from here.

Looking on the bright side, I’m happy that on Circuital MMJ was gracious enough to cut down on the amount of throwaway songs, ones that filled most of innards of Evil Urges. And I’m happy that James transcendental nature has left him feeling “so wonderful” in a land where there “ain’t no police” or “no disease;” regardless, the man has sadistically left listeners wish a sappy pile of mush that, even at three minutes, is unbearable. Then Outta My System comes on and I remember who James seems to write for nowadays: that rebellious and righteous bunch of Bonnaroo kids. Can’t bring me down, maaaan. And while I understand that MMJ have never been ones for shameless titles – recall 2002’s Can’t You See the Hard Helmet on My Head? – the abysmal circus freakshow, Holdin’ on to Black Metal, finds MMJ at a cringingly bizarre low. Unfortunately, I can foresee its popularity as a live sing-along; for the record though, shelve it with its insulting parallel from Evil Urges, Highly Suspicious

I can’t imagine the amount of conceit it takes to release an album with such a promising opening set, a baffling line of indie rock oddities throughout the core, a slight improvement with mediocrity of You Wanna Freak Out, and a throwaway ending. Slow Slow Tune (aptly named) painfully trudges though uninspired quasi-Floyd solos, and Movin’ Away makes the attempt for the retrospective last song. The only problem here is that I’ve been waiting for the last song since the 15-minute mark of the album, and frankly, I’m not feeling the nostalgic goodbye. 

It seems that Circuital would have had better luck as an EP containing just the first three songs. I do keep returning to these few tracks, in spite of the rest of the album, in the same way that I still find myself enjoying Touch Me I’m Going to Scream Pts. 1 & 2 from Evil Urges. If anything however, Circuital makes it clear that we are dealing with My Morning Jacket post-metamorphosis. From a provocative indie/country/blues band with exceptional vocals, witty lyrics, and a stellar band, MMJ has found prime real estate on the premise of becoming a commercial parody of themselves. If you want a summary of MMJ’s spirit in making Circuital, just look to the lyrics of First Light’s chorus.  “First light tonight/first light tomorrow/first light this morning, first light this evening/first light tonight” – did they really have anything to say at all?