Heralded by just about every last nook and cranny of the music press as this year's Americana flavor of the month, I must confess that I just don't get My Morning Jacket.
They have, in singer Jim James, a guy who, in sounding like Neil Young (albeit a Neil Young hollering from the bottom of a very deep well), makes having a singer who sounds like Neil Young seem a very bad idea indeed, despite the wealth and weight of evidence to the contrary (c.f. The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Buffalo Springfield). Musically, they seem to draw heavily on the sound of Creedence Clearwater Revival albums played at 16 r.p.m., possessed by a curious conviction that a song just ain't a song unless it's six minutes long. To achieve this end, even where the paucity of material might normally prevent it, the Jacket throw in any kind of mismatched stylistic contrivance they can lay their hands upon: the bad, bad Flying Burrito Brothers of "Easy Morning Rebel" (heck, even the title sounds as if it was constructed using some Burroughsian country-rock cut-up technique) has a lumpen, brassy jam session appended to it, and "Run Thru" goes all Hawkwind, for no discernible reason. (One track is entitled "I Will Sing You Songs", to which the inevitable response is "No, please don't".)
To add insult to aural injury, consider the muddy, indistinct self-production, the use of a cover script so convoluted that my best attempts to decode the title of the opening track have ended in dismal failure (of course, I could look it up on the internet, but, crucially, why should I have to?!), and sleeve art that leaves me feeling distinctly queasy. Redeeming features are numbered thus: "One Big Holiday" and "Dancefloors" kinda rock, and my numbered vinyl copy is part of a limited run of 1000, so it's in my interest that My Morning Jacket become intergalactically popular, allowing me to flog it on eBay in my dotage and retire on the proceeds. (I predict that it will not be heavily worn.) In the meantime, if you really need to hear the sound of young men playing retrogressive, 'proper' rock music the Kings Of Leon album will take you to many more places in half the time.
MY MORNING JACKET Z (Badman)
I continue to be perplexed by the ongoing critical success of Tennessees My Morning Jacket. Heck, the latest issue of Uncut even rates Z the 43rd Greatest Cosmic American Album. Stripping down their reverb-heavy guitary Americana, Z ladles on a squelchy electronic syrup. Often, for example on Wordless Chorus, Jim James frail, Neil Young-esque vocals are left painfully exposed as R n B beats skitter beneath, lines such as We are the innovators/They are the imitators ringing incongruously hollow.
It Beats 4 U is rather better, abandoning the genre-vaulting to fashion virtue from its relative lack of clutter. It doesnt actually make it as far as meaning anything, though, and the titles Prince homage seems like a cheap attempt to buy in some extra eclecticism. What A Wonderful Man and Anytime soon submerge their tantalisingly crisp intros beneath wodges of bluff Southern rawk bluster. The Hawaii 5-0 theme and reggae syncopations jostle for airtime amidst the sonic soup of Off The Record, although the smog clears during its extended drum machine/faux-Mellotron coda. Into The Woods begins with dreamy waltz time and the found sounds of birdsong and children playing, soon offset by nightmarish images (A kitten on fire/A baby in a blender) wriggling its way to a raucous choral finale.
Possibly the albums most attractive moment, Knot Comes Loose shrugs off the poses and postures, leaving an old-timey slice of acoustic Americana. A real song rather than a high-falutin genre clash, for once the Jacket dont attempt to obscure a lack of substance with a grotesque excess of styles. Dondante is similarly unobjectionable, a pillow-soft, fluffy haze, gentle, weeping guitars and some attempt at dynamic range, its only undone by James thin howl as it teeters perilously close to parody.
Once again, though, Im puzzled by the plaudits heaped upon a My Morning Jacket album. What are others hearing in this lumpen assemblage that Im evidently so deaf to?