The staple ingredient for great My Morning Jacket songs is usually a simple folk arrangement with piano or acoustic guitar, which then builds up into a crescendo of harmonies and layers of the honey-sweet vocals of Jim James, drenched in reverb, creating expansive feel-good melodic folk. When the band does this, they do it well and with fastidious precision.
It’s when they step outside of this formula that My Morning Jacket seem to fall on their face. Take the title track, which begins with James’ choirboy-like voice and the backing of a catchy guitar riff. The track then opens up to a vast landscape of power chords, pianos and a beautiful syncopation of acoustic guitar and drums, perfectly timed to let the vocals hover for the next five minutes, in what is undoubtedly the best track of the album. Similarly, ‘Wonderful (The Way I Feel)’, a warm ballad that you’re most certainly to turn to on a cold night with a bottle of whiskey in hand, follows the keep-it-simple approach. ‘Outta My System’, using Brian Wilson as a template for a melody line, sees James going back to the hedonistic days of his youth: “they told me not to smoke drugs but I wouldn’t listen/I guess I had to get it outta system.”
It’s when the tracks start to become a little more experimental that they seem to lose their way, or lack direction. ‘Holding On To Black Metal’, despite its loud horns and a gospel choir, is a song that never quite starts – or ends. The funk-driven, ‘First Light’, you sense, would probably work great live but on record it seems more like jamming just for the sake of it.
My Morning Jacket are perhaps victims of their own boredom. The tunes they do well are, lets face it, nothing new; the ground has been covered before by artists like Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Band, Neil Young and Gram Parsons, to name a few. With this pang of insecurity to write original songs, My Morning Jacket’s albums – this one included – tend to veer down all sorts of avenues to produce this eclectic mixed bag that doesn’t work as a finished product. A handful of good tracks, but as a whole, this record lacks a cohesive and polished identity.