My Morning Jacket's latest is the sort of album that critics adore, because it allows us to flex our smarts by pointing out the different styles that a talented and ambitious band incorporates into its growing repertoire. What self-respecting rock crit doesn't get excited when the title track lays a Prince-style falsetto and pizzicato guitar onto a slightly psychedelic Grateful Dead-ish track? It doesn't matter that the song is kind of annoying.
With "Highly Suspicious," though, singer-songwriter-guitarist Jim James maintains the fish-out-of-water falsetto, but the effect is better in this genuinely funky, Cameo-inspired track. The album continues the spot-my-influences game with "I'm Amazed," which borrows some of the stinging-guitar power pop that Matthew Sweet used to do so well, but melds it with a sort of Southern rock sensibility. "Thank You Too!" is the sort of white-boy soul-rock that Big Star used to do. "Sec Walkin" brings the steel guitar, sounding like classic country with charming bubblegum hooks. "Two Halves" makes like the Raspberries bowing to the Beatles, with a wistful lyric about growing older, while the lulling vintage pop-rock of "Librarian" frames a lovelorn ode to the title character. "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Pt. 1" is a diaphanous guitar and drum-machine daydream, as opposed to "Pt. 2," which indulges all the way in techno-trance realms.
A little Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream goes a long way, and this formerly straight-ahead rock band may be adept at stirring up the musical melting pot — but the live album Okonokos remains the best example of My Morning Jacket's magic. (Ato)
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