There’s a few music ‘magazines’ I’ll read online. Things like Spin (for their lists, their in-depth Dinosaur Jr article etc) predominantly, occasionally Consequence of Sound, even Pitchfork (which I take with more than a grain of salt thanks to their hipster-heart-on-sleeve and love of things not even slightly alternative) from time to time for news. I’ll also get the Rolling Stone email on a close-to-daily basis.
I’m sure this isn’t unique or blog-worthy in itself but bear with me.
Sometimes there’ll be an article on a band I’m loving. So what I like to do – having read said article – is kinda back-explore the coverage of that band on the site(s). See what they were saying about them / reviewing etc before I was reading them.
Checking back on some of the earlier reviews for the band it’s interesting to see there’s a lot of comparisons for their seminal Z album to Radiohead’s OK Computer. Rolling Stone lead their review with “America is a lot closer to getting its own Radiohead, and it isn’t Wilco.”
I can understand the comparisons. It was a Big Step album. It was more experimental with the sound and was a deliberate move away from regional sound to something altogether more Universal and moved them into a different orbit in terms of sales, concerts and coverage.
I’ve spoken of it before so won’t do too much here.
In a way the comparisons thereafter also work. In the same way as some people never got over OK Computer and judged each subsequent release accordingly, the same is true of MMJ and Z. As Radiohead went further ‘left’ with their follow-up so did MMJ. The difference is that the quality control switch on the 1-2 punch of Kid A and Amnesiac was significantly higher than MMJ’s Evil Urges which alienated many by straying too far into the falsetto-funk and wandering – while Librarian and Touch Me Pt 2 still hold up not a lot else really does. A quick dart back to the centre followed for both bands too – Hail To The Thief for Radiohead and MMJ’s Circuital (obviously the timelines are a bit off). Circuital almost felt like an apology – straight ahead, less trip and almost subdued.
So if your wanderings into experimentation alienate some and your move back to please alienates others, what do you do next?
For Radiohead it was In Rainbows. Their now high-point. The culmination of their experimentation crafted into finely honed and tight songs without any flabby excess or weak points, taking every element of their sound to date and pushing it forward with the kind of expert confidence that can’t be ignored.
I didn’t get over OK Computer until I heard In Rainbows.
I didn’t get over Z – until I dropped the needle on The Waterfall (even if I did need to change the speed settings – who puts an album at 45rpm?!).
The Waterfall is not only MMJ’s most direct album, it’s also their trippiest. All the elements of their sound are contained in these 10 tracks and yet rather than feel like a retread, there’s an urgency to it, a compelling move forward. Everything is here from the big, live crowd-thrillers, the guitar solos, the orchestral / folk-rock, the psychedelic wanderings and the falsetto-hitting funk all surrounded by Jim James unimpeachable voice.
In the same way that Z sounded ready to blast forth from the stage (for evidence see the live album Okonokos that followed), The Waterfall sounds just as tailor-made to thrill audiences. Believe will undoubtedly be opening every live set for the next 5 years – a slow entry propelled with guitar-chord punching and the title repeated an octave higher each time until Jim James lets rip with a BELIEEEEVVEE that strays oh-so-close to Journey, the song lifts-off in the same way as Worldless Chorus and suddenly we’re airborne with the song. I’ve probably played the tune to death already but the rule at the moment is that if my toddler son rocks out to it, it gets played a lot – slipping this in the CD player (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – putting the CD in with the Vinyl is a win-win in my opinion) in the morning is the best way to start a day. Especially if the journey is long enough to include In Its Infancy (The Waterfall).
It’s something of a different tact for the band lyric-wise. There’s a different voice here, it’s more personal; certainly a break-up album, albeit with an air of “and so it goes”, with lines such as “I’m getting so tired of trying to always be nice,” (Big Decisions), ” it’s a thin line between lovin’ and wastin’ my time” (Thin Line) and “I hope you get the point, I think our love is done” (Get The Point).
That there’s another album due next year from the same sessions is great news – four years separate this from Circuital – even if a predetermined release schedule can sometimes spell an ease in quality.
It feels very much like My Morning Jacket are back in the game.