For those who weren't convinced by Z's left-hand turns, Evil Urges cements My Morning Jacket's transformation from grizzled, reverb-drenched classic rockers to experimental, genre-bending innovators. There's always been a slight disconnect between the band's image and sound; frontman Jim James once howled his melodies behind curtains of long hair while lashing at his Flying V guitar, looking like a Metallica roadie while sounding like Neil Young in an echo chamber. But 2008's Evil Urges -- with its diversions into funk and prog, its falsetto vocals, its eclecticism -- is a different animal entirely, perhaps the furthest My Morning Jacket have ever sounded from the Southern psychedelia that launched them ten years prior. The bandmates look different, too, having trimmed their bushy beards and unruly hair for the photos that grace the album sleeve. Physical appearances may have little to do with this group's sound, but the clean-shaven look further challenges the world's perception of My Morning Jacket, a band that was once lumped into the same down 'n' dirty rock bin as the Drive-By Truckers and Kings of Leon. The members of My Morning Jacket now want to occupy their own orbit, and Evil Urges is as spacy as it gets.
"Evil Urges," "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream, Pt. 1," and "Highly Suspicious" comprise the opening lineup, which jumpstarts the album with 13 minutes of sexy, tripped-out electro-funk. James slips into a falsetto during the title track, his voice clear and reverb-free as he coos in a bedroom whisper. "Touch Me" bubbles with interstellar keyboard effects and harmonies -- for the stoner contingent of MMJ's audience, this is the logical place to fire up the bong -- while "Highly Suspicious" delivers the album's biggest shocker, mixing James' best Prince impression with bizarre lyrics ("Tapping your lines, peanut butter pudding surprise!") and bursts of laugher. It's the kind of polarizing song that fans will either love or loathe, and given its prominent spot in the track list -- batting third, a spot usually reserved for heavy-hitters -- it's obviously meant to elicit a strong reaction. But that seems to be the crux of Evil Urges; after years of being shoehorned into various genres, My Morning Jacket have put their collective foot down, insisting that they're not a neo-psychedelic outfit, an alt-country group, a jam band, or the contemporary torchbearers of Southern rock & roll. They're none of those things -- or perhaps they're all of those things, as Evil Urges offers the widest swath of musical fare in the My Morning Jacket catalog. There's rock & roll ("Aluminum Park," "I'm Amazed"), country ("Sec Walkin'"), rootsy pop nuggets ("Two Halves"), ballads about sexy bookworms ("Librarian"), and the aforementioned trips into Funkytown. "Touch Me I'm Going to Scream, Pt. 2" concludes the album with eight minutes of kaleidoscopic sound, and Evil Urges ultimately ends the same way it began -- with a willingness to explore, to challenge, to poke and prod at My Morning Jacket's past work while creating something new.