ALBUM REVIEW: My Morning Jacket – Circuital

MY MORNING JACKET CIRCUITAL
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My Morning Jacket – “Circuital” (MP3)

Now that they’ve established themselves as festival-headlining rock gods, My Morning Jacket no longer have to worry about the little things, like recording great albums. But unlike former tourmates Pearl Jam, who for over a decade have been selling out stadiums on the strength of their earlier work, My Morning Jacket still seem to have their heart in the studio.

Their sixth LP Circuital plays it straight, tempering the genre bending flights-of-fancy of Evil Urges and Z and settling on an uncomplicated version of the classic rock guitar-jamming of It Still Moves. Many of the elements that once defined the MMJ sound have been excised, particularly lead singer Jim James’ signature reverb-soaked vocal. Also gone are the bonkers tangents (peanut butter pudding surprise, anyone?) and Prince-inspired falsettos that made Evil Urges so divisive, and so notable. My Morning Jacket have made an album that will offend absolutely no one, but it comes at a cost – by being so safe, little on Circuital soars.

My Morning Jacket, perhaps anticipating their next Bonnaroo set, are especially muscular on Circuital. The chug of Tom Blankenship’s bass and Patrick Hallahan’s drum tantrum on the great “Victory Dance” set a menacing tone for the album. When Circuital hits its stride, as it does on the exuberant spy-movie anthem “Holding on to Black Metal” and the record’s bombastic title track, its lesser by-the-numbers moments are forgiven. However, the pretty-yet-staid “Wonderful (The Way I Feel)” and “Slow Slow Tune” double-underline James’ unfortunate tendency for lyrical boilerplate hokum.

Circuital sounds smoothed – it never reaches the insane heights of Z, or sinks to the pedestrian lows of Evil Urges – a condensed unit of ten respectable songs from a band that has nothing to lose. At their best, My Morning Jacket confirm why they are so beloved. Even at their worst, they withstand any lasting tarnish. It’s to My Morning Jacket’s credit that Circuital is both impressively solid and their weakest album since The Tennessee Fire. Workmanlike, yes, but it sure will sound incredible live.

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