The self-titled ninth studio LP from rockers My Morning Jacket may be the first new material from the band since 2015’s The Waterfall, but the band members have been more than busy elsewhere. Frontman Jim James has released a staggering five solo albums in that time and guitarist Carl Broemel a couple also, whilst most of the band have been involved in various other projects including providing major contributions to Strand Of Oaks’ last two albums.
In fact, the amount of work they put into Timothy Showalter’s Eraserland (2019) and In Heaven (2021) was so substantial that they were basically acting as his backing band, and Broemel’s magnificence with the axe elevated both albums to a place that would not been achieved without it.
But all of these side ventures left fans fearing that the band themselves were done. Judging by occasional comments from the band too, calling it a day was obviously discussed, but James has recently declared “it feels really good that we’re still around” so it would appear that they’re happy with how things have turned out – for now, at least.
My Morning Jacket have dabbled with various offshoots of their roots before, but undeniably their core remains one of classic rock. They’ve never really been a jamming band on record but their exemplary live shows are different and for the first time, their eponymous effort seems to capture their live presence, a glowing reputation solidified by two huge shows at Denver’s Red Rocks in 2019.
Centrepiece The Devil’s In The Details covers nine minutes as James tackles the hypocrisy of shopping at the local mall for goods produced by ultra-cheap labour forces the world over, ambling along inoffensively before turning down a jazz-laden path. Lengthy jamming also defines another time-consuming listen, In Color, but this epic journey is more akin to the ’70s rock MMJ’s back catalogue has often pointed towards, and the prog rock peak reached towards the track’s conclusion is impressive, with Broemel’s guitaring showing why he stole the show on those two Strand Of Oaks albums. After bemoaning his own predicament where there “ain’t nobody buying records no more”, James shrugs those feelings off in a kind of “oh well” manner, relishing the fact he’s still alive before a Pink Floyd-esque experience takes shape for a phenomenal climax.
Over the course of the record, there’s plenty more unrest on display too. Complaints about modern society and the impact electronic devices and other distractions are voiced on Regularly Scheduled Programming and people’s individual problems being moaned about when the real issue – the state of our planet – is being brushed aside is covered on Least Expected, but they are only two examples on a collection that is basically highlighting the poor state of just about everything.
Elsewhere, the heavy Southern rock passages within the excellent Penny For Your Thoughts sparkle, whilst closer I Never Could Get Enough paints a reflective, melancholic love song picture, somewhat at odds with the majority of the album. Never In The Real World also sounds a little different to its companions, with James’ vocal style reflecting that of Joey Ramone. Lead single Love Love Love chugs along in a blues-rock pattern after opening bars that recall The Besnard Lakes and by landing a place on the latest edition of Fifa, its presence, as well as that of the band, is likely to have been considerably raised.
By naming the collection after themselves, My Morning Jacket (the album) is probably the most accurate depiction of the band in their catalogue. It seems to capture their essence better than its predecessors. Whilst the effect is rather eclectic, covering several of their bases, and with its existence being a little surprising after recent years’ events that pointed to their departure as a collective, it’s a welcome return.