When Bad Songs Happen To Good Bands #2
As anyone who’s listened to my show, read this blog, or glanced at the lengthy favorite music section on my Facebook page would know, My Morning Jacket is one of my favorite bands. It took me a while to get into their music, but it eventually happened, and once I fall for a band, I fall hard. The band that once bored my Limp-Bizkit-lovin’ teenage self is now a regular on Listen Up! playlists, and I await their next album/tour eagerly because I hear they’re fantastic live.
But even Jim James and the Jacket are just as prone as anyone else to writing a lousy song. And on their 2008 album Evil Urges, they unleashed a beast that’s left me shaking my head and reaching for the skip button ever since. Pitchfork called it “eye-poppingly annoying.” Magnet magazine compared the experience of listening to this song to “FBI lifers finding out J. Edgar Hoover liked wearing dresses on the weekends.”
My Morning Jacket called it “Highly Suspicious.” I’m calling it an example of what happens… When Bad Songs Happen To Good Bands.
Evil Urges, My Morning Jacket’s fifth studio album, begins on a pretty high note — figuratively and literally. It leads off with the title track, which features Jim James showing off his falsetto skills and Prince worship. We realize that the “evil urges” of the title aren’t of the death-metal-gorefest or Eminem-fantasizing-about-killing-his-wife variety. It’s actually more about sexual desires. Not that we would ever expect MMJ to write about the former, of course.
Next up in the running order is “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 1,” which still reigns as my favorite song on Evil Urges, one of my favorite Jacket songs overall, and also one of my favorite makeout songs. As I’ve said on numerous occasions on my show, I’m a sucker for pretty songs like this. It’s very laid back, but still kind of funky and smooth, and then it reaches the big crescendo of “I need a human right by my side, untied,” and it rules.
Now let’s shift gears for a moment before we get to track 3 so I can talk about how much I love “Weird Al” Yankovic.
Seriously, even if you don’t find Al’s songs funny, you have to at least respect the longevity and continued relevance of a man who started his career in parody songs by recording a spoof of “My Sharona” about deli meat in a men’s room with his accordion and later hiring Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz to bang on his accordion case. Weird Al has outlasted most of the artists he’s parodied over the years, and he’s still churning out enjoyable material after 30 years in the business. This year he’s released a couple of great “style parodies,” where he mimics a particular artist’s musical style and techniques rather than writing silly lyrics over a popular song. “Craigslist” is a dead-on spoof of the Doors (right down to getting the Doors’ keyboardist, Ray Manzarek, to play on it), and “CNR” is a Chuck-Norris-facts tribute to Charles Nelson Reilly of Match Game fame that actually has a pretty badass White Stripes riff behind it.
So why, if I’m supposed to be talking about My Morning Jacket, am I spending so much time on Weird Al? Well, here’s where we get back to Evil Urges, just in time for track 3 — the aforementioned “Highly Suspicious.”
Every time I listen to this song, I can’t help but think of Weird Al. It sounds like a Weird Al style parody of Prince, only it’s not as funny. Not unless you count the fact that every other line is “peanut butter pudding surprise,” that is. And yes, there actually is such a thing as peanut butter pudding. I never knew that because I generally stick with good old-fashioned tried-and-true chocolate pudding.
Seriously, where did this song suddenly come from? It’s so ridiculously goofy that when it comes on — again, right after “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream Pt. 1” — is more likely to inspire reactions of “WTF?” than “Hell yes, this rocks!” A funky bass straight out of ’80s synth-pop introduces things. Then James pushes his falsetto about as high as a human voice can possibly go with only a basic drum beat there to distract you from the “peanut butter pudding surprise.” Then we get to the one-chord chorus riff and the backing vocals barking the song’s title. Then toward the end we get some weird laughter and some okay lead guitar work.
Okay, fine then. The first two songs were more relaxing then rocking, so maybe this song is meant as a transition to a harder-rocking section, right? Well, not quite. Track 4 brings us the album’s lead single, “I’m Amazed,” which sounds like a more natural progression into the rock from the first two songs.
Then there’s track 5, “Thank You Too,” a mellow country-tinged ballad that apparently (according to the comments section on this next video) lots of 13-year-old girls have been turned on to by Nick Jonas, of all people.
Notice how neither of these songs are even in the same zip code as the same ballpark of sound that “Highly Suspicious” occupies. In fact, nothing else on Evil Urges in its entirety even tries to approach the same level of camp as that song. So as if it didn’t already stick out like a sore thumb for being such a campy song, it sticks out even more for being a campy song surrounded by much more serious material. It’s not like we’re talking about Blink-182 sandwiching “Happy Holidays, You Bastard” between “First Date” and “Story Of A Lonely Guy,” for example.
Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a band just wanting to have some fun. In fact, one of my favorite moments on Evil Urges comes during the closing guitar solo in “Aluminum Park” when you can hear Jim James yelling “Woo-hoo!” in the background. That one little “Woo-hoo!” actually says a lot more than just “Woo-hoo,” I think — it says, “Hell yes, we’re rocking out and we are having a blast!” It’s part of the reason why I think “Aluminum Park” works better as a “fun song” than “Highly Suspicious.” Come to think of it, it just works better in general.
If there’s one encouraging thing about “Highly Suspicious” being the only song of its kind on Evil Urges, it’s this: it most likely will just be a one-off, which means we can expect more of the Jacket we’ve come to know and love on future albums. And who knows? Maybe it’s one of those songs that works better in a live setting, like the next song I’ve got planned for this feature…