After over a decade of following My Morning Jacket’s career, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll prefer some of their albums over others, and oddly enough that’s lead to me anticipating their new albums more keenly than I do most other acts. One of the thing’s I’ve always admired about MMJ is the fact that you’re never quite sure which version of themselves they’ll turn out to be on their next album. From jam-heavy extended song-structures, to more concise and direct rockers, to flirting with the alt-country sound, to classic Southern Rock, MMJ are a band with an enviable bag of tricks and they have a wonderful knack for being able to vary their approach to cosmic americana, and yet retain a unique sonic identity.
The Waterfall bursts into life with the synthetic bubbles that open “Believe (Nobody Knows)”, a surging mass of positivity with a vast chorus. As an opener it’s a rather wonderful statement of intent and builds the anticipation that maybe, just maybe, The Waterfall might be My Morning Jacket’s most satisfying album to date. It’s a feeling backed up by the heart-swelling pop rock of “Compound Fracture”. Yeah, on the strength of this opening duo The Waterfall is promising to be my favourite MMJ album so far.
Then it all starts to flake away. The next couple of songs, although decent enough MMJ songs, just don’t make much of an impression on me, and it’s only the change of pace that the pretty “Get the Point” brings that makes sure that the rest of the album doesn’t just all fade together, resulting in a relatively disappointing alt-rock album. Where are the great accessible rock tunes like “Holdin’ On to Black Metal” and “Outta My System” on Circuital, or “What a Wonderful Man” on Z? The Waterfall is a beautiful sounding album, but it sort of fails to make a lasting impact.
Oh, I’m sure it wasn’t supposed to be like that.
The thing is, I would have left it that, if it wasn’t for the fact that The Waterfall has little musical barbs, great moments that kept pulling me back in to listen to it again. And again. And yet again. Each time it left slightly more of a positive impression on me.
Then I understood.
The Waterfall is a fine example of a rare beast in today’s music – it’s a grower. Too many times an act puts out an album which initially makes a big impression when you first encounter it, but ultimately fades away from your memory far quicker than you would expect it to. The Waterfall does the opposite of that, pulling of the neat trick of slowly revealing its increasingly interesting qualities over time, to the point where you listen to it with greater frequency, as it gently burrows its way into your psyche, waiting for you to realise what a truly satisfying and well-balanced album it is as you allow its rich loamy textures to envelope you.
For me it was “Get the Point” that was key to unlocking the rest of The Waterfall. Initial listens had left me with the impression that it was merely a pretty break-up tune, but as I listened to it with greater frequency, it revealed just what a gorgeously fractured and broken-hearted song it was, as it reaches in and reminds you that some break ups are for the best and that some people don’t stop loving each other, but that for reasons beyond anyone’s control, their relationships just flounder and expire. If you nail a song like that as well as MMJ have here, it isn’t just pretty, it’s emotionally devastating.
Once The Waterfall has started revealing its greatness, it becomes quite the generous spirited album, as tunes like “Thin Line” and “In its Infancy (The Waterfall)” will start to rise rapidly from your subconscious regardless of the time of day and a song like “Like a River” handsomely repay the amount of time you invest in it. A personal favourite of mine has become “Big Decisions”, a wonderful tune and the album’s lead single, which almost completely passed me by the first couple of times I heard it, but has slowly but surely become the centrepiece of the second half of the album for me.
My Morning Jacket remain the type of band that music fans can have a proper relationship with, in that not all of their albums will appeal to all elements of their audience. That is in no way a bad thing, as it means that they have a lot more to offer than your average alt-rock act, and hey, if you weren’t so enamoured with their last album, their next two might be more your thing. This approach gives MMJ scope to grow and develop without feeling that they need to stick to one specific formula to retain the interest of their fanbase, indeed their fans remain pleasingly open to the prospect of MMJ switching things around as their creative muse shifts from time to time. This willingness to follow their muse in whatever direction has been a hallmark of My Morning Jacket’s career to date, and on the strength of The Waterfall, it’s an approach which continues to pay dividends for everyone involved.