My Morning Jacket's eclecticism has long been one of their strong suits, but their sonic wanderlust seems to fail them a bit on their seventh studio album, The Waterfall. Jim James and his bandmates have followed a lot of different stylistic paths since they made their debut at the end of the '90s, and the polished, prog-laced classic rock sound of "Believe (Nobody Knows)" and the sleek mix of soft rock and Euro-disco on "Compound Fracture" are both effective and sterling examples of stuff MMJ couldn't have pulled off in their early days. But after a promising start, the band seems to slip into something of a rut, and The Waterfall quickly loses focus and runs short of energy, the latter being this set's crippling flaw. Songs like "Thin Line" and "Tropics (Erase Traces)" easily slip into a stoned midtempo drift that plays like aural navel-gazing, despite the strength of the performances, and the closer, "Only Memories Remain," threatens to send both the players and listeners into a sound slumber as the album meanders back to shore. It's significant that the album's simplest and most emotionally direct song, "Get the Point," is in many ways the best, and if it breaks no new ground, it sounds honest and straight from the heart, and connects with a strength most of the songs on The Waterfall lack. (Most of the four bonus tracks on the deluxe edition hit harder than the material on the "official" release, which suggests the meandering tone of the album may have been deliberate.) Much of The Waterfall sounds like My Morning Jacket looking for new paths for their own sake, rather than fearlessly following their muse as they did on Evil Urges and Circuital, and the tight but comfortable give and take between the musicians and Tucker Martine's clear, strong production only helps so much when the songs are often lacking. The Waterfall suggests maybe My Morning Jacket would be better off doing a few things well rather than losing their way down several different paths.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming