Monday, February 22, 2010

SONG #81: Highly Suspicious

My Morning Jacket, Evil Urges, 2008

Will's second pick, and one that he's loved since he first heard it.  

I was a little late to the My Morning Jacket party, arriving around 2005's Z album, and they remain a very hit/miss band with me in the sense that I usually love their albums when they first come out, play them a ton, and then never touch them again after about three months.  Looking over the space they inhabit in the 20K list, they have a lot of entires, but I rarely choose to listen to them.  When they come on shuffle, I'm never bummed, but they can't quite get over the hump with me.

I'm not sure why that is-- they have all the elements of rock music that I love.  They write good tunes.  They play and record them well.  They have a distinct sound (Jim James' crazy reverbed voice) and their cover choices are terrific.  They are also a great live band, whom I've seen twice, and James is not a puppetmaster; the band has a distinct, engaging personality.  I keep expecting them to join the ranks of bands like Wilco and Gomez in my upper echelon, and instead, I find their work fairly forgettable after the fact.  I suppose we all have bands we think we'll love more than we do, just as we have bands that we love a lot more than we think we will.  My Morning Jacket is definitely one of the top examples of the former for me (and come to think of it, Black Sabbath might be an example for me of the latter).

With that caveat, this band is still one that I'd recommend checking out in earnest.  This song, however, has cost them a ton of street cred.  Until "Highly Suspicious," MMJ was a band that hipsters could love without worrying that they were accidentally listening to "rock" music (I love when a 20 year-old tries to introduce me to a band that has "reinvented" the "rock" sound, and they play me something that I listened to 25 years ago.  My favorite recent example:  Surfer Blood.  Who knew that The Outfield was an important, watershed band in rock history?  Don't get me wrong-- I love the Outfield, but I'm not about to anoint Surfer Blood as the next Pink Floyd.)  Anyhoo, MMJ made rock fans and "rock" fans happy.

And then this song-- it is easily the most love/hate song in the band's catalog.  It's either a terrific reinvention of Prince's "Kiss" with tongue firmly in cheek, or the most disastrous misstep in search of a radio hit by an important band in the last ten years.  For some, it was proof that MMJ is a band with a sense of humor.  For others, it was a betrayal, proof that the band are not "artists" after all.

Me?  I freakin' love it.  I think it's hilarious and catchy and obviously meant to entertain.  James' vocal is a total crackup and so much fun to sing along to.  Who knows what the hell he says (or cares)?  When it comes on, I sing something like "Waitin' for the potum and the pocis collide, Scrummin' in the fault of the town..."  All that matters is that you can double the robot chorus.  This moment is when Will shines.  No one can sing "HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS OF YOU!" with the conviction of a 6 year-old.

The death of humor in rock music over the last decade is concerning-- believe me, nobody takes this stuff more seriously than I do, but life without humor isn't really living.  So many modern bands are SO earnest and SO hurting (looking at you, emo kids) that it's hard to take them seriously.  I felt the same way about the Goth movement.  Nobody's that depressed all the time.  I know that most of those Goth kids laughed with one another when no one else was watching, and found ironic humor in having to put on a Der Weinerschnitzel outfit over the black hair and fingernails.  The Cure were unlistenable to me until they started to have fun, and then I totally got it.  For me, "Highly Suspicious" is proof that MMJ finds joy in their work, and that's a huge bonus if you're going to try to win me over with an eleven minute jam.

And any song that ends with that interesting a guitar solo is OK by me. 



  1. I've been trying to get into these guys since they were anointed the American Radiohead and it just hasn't happened yet. I like this song, though, especially the freaky guitar ... it kind of reminds me of Fear of Music-era Talking Heads, specifically "Animals" with that heavy male chant for the chorus.

    Good stuff from Will! Is there any SFX on tap? (btw, I think 6/11/87 would warrant a parental advisory these days, you think? for "unsettlingly violent fantasy imagery.")

  2. hahaha, i'm loving will's choices so far. the first time i heard this song i wanted to throw the entire album away, but now i love it (with the exception of the Barney-the-Dinosauresque giggles toward the end). I've never gotten further than It Still Moves in their back catalogue (it gets awfully 'southern rock'), but their last 3 and the Okonokos DVD are all epicly awesome....and then there's this:

    also, i'm loving the Surfer Blood name drop. I downloaded that album literally 8 minutes ago. I've heard that its like "Weezer with crazy reverb)

  3. Ha! I'm thrilled to read your mixed feelings on these guys, as you've been pushing them on me with limited success for five years or so. I actually prefer the live stuff I;ve heard and they were really good live. I don;t dig the vocal sound with the reverb, it;s just a little too much like autotune for me. When they;re live it;s much less noticeable. BTW, I like the Surfer Blood record ok. Who cares whether it sounds like a fresh take on old stuff?

    Related note: my favorite Cure joke is from Ben Folds, Battle of Who Could Care Less: "This should cheer you up for sure, I found your old ID And you're all dressed up like the Cure."