Published by JB on July 22, 2015
My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall
Release date: May 4, 2015
For a band that is notorious for possessing such an eclectic pallet of sounds (that replicates almost no single band from the past), My Morning Jacket has a trademark sound that never seems to wander too far away from their own crafty, psychedelic shadow. Despite having one of the most talented lead men (equipped with an absolute angelic falsetto) in all of rock, a new My Morning Jacket song, for all its beauty, still sounds like a My Morning Jacket song. This is both their curse, and their treasure.
Ninety seconds into the title track and you have a 2015 explanation on vinyl of everything that is great and sometimes askew with My Morning Jacket. The title track is at least three different tracks in one, playing like a Quentin Tarantino movie where the middle sounds like the end, but the end could have been the beginning, and so forth. Just as the song begins to groove in a fantastic Monsters of Folk style rocker (complete with the immaculate Jim James falsetto) it stops on a heartbeat, gets into a monotone psychedelic groove and then goes on rinse and repeat. It becomes a letdown. While it scores high in creativity (and in scores a 10 out of 10 for the signature My Morning Jacket sound) it’s frustrating to hear the track chopped up – often at its best points. Sometimes you wonder if the band does this for fun, or because they feel like they just have to.
Beautiful tracks like ‘Big Decisions’ and ‘Thin Line’ are equalized on the album by too much vamping such as that on ‘Spring (Among the Living)’ and the very similar ‘Tropics (Erase Traces)’. The former two tracks spend more time showing off the band’s muscularity than their songwriting prowess. For every great track, there’s a reminder of how much better the album could be. Nothing here is nearly as charismatic as James’s solo masterpiece ‘A New Life’.
There’s little on The Waterfall that is going to make you believe My Morning Jacket has leaped forward from its predecessor, 2011’s mostly wonderful Circuital. Like that album, Waterfall has a little bit of everything; rock, gospel, soul, psychedelica, and dark keyboards pumping through the tracks as it were 1968. It creates an experience we’ve come to love in the My Morning Jacket live setting, where they have almost no peer. On record though, they’ve yet to make that album that is their Exile on Main Street, their Rumours, their Thriller, their Purple Rain, their Nevermind. Eccentric jamming mixed with experimental musings often work, and sometimes do not. It creates an uneven line in the sand that was interesting in the past, but has outgrown much of its welcome. While the talent of James is undeniable, the effort to sound like My Morning Jacket seems to often outweigh the effort to just be awesome.