An album radiating with this much charm and warmth
Janne Oinonen

15:04 8th June 2011

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Neil Young meets the Muppet Show...This early description of My Morning Jacket's musical mission provides some insight into why the band's remained in the awkward zone between sizeable cult acclaim and mass acceptance, despite albums such as 2005's outstanding 'Z' getting close to capturing their colossal live prowess.

A wide-eyed sense of childlike wonder and a zany sense of humour have never been far from the surface at any MMJ function, suggesting to some serious-minded folk that the five-piece's unique blend of country twang, classic rock, soulful balladry and space trucking psychedelia's not grown-up enough to be taken entirely seriously. The band's not always helped their own cause: 2008's stylistically confused 'Evil Urges' sounded like the work of a band determined to avoid showcasing their strengths.

Five studio albums and a double live set into their career, the streamlined and flab-free 'Circuital' - the recording of which saw the band return to their native Louisville, Kentucky - sounds like a concentrated effort to silence the doubters and prove once and for all that My Morning Jacket have what it takes to migrate their operation from the margins to the mainstream, a trick performed in recent years with zero creative compromises by such US alt. rock peers as the National, the Black Keys and Animal Collective.

'Circuital' carries out the task at hand with confident aplomb. If anything, it's a bit too lean and efficient. "I end up in the same place where I started out", frontman Jim James wails towards the end of the title track's epic blend of acoustic strums and Townsendian power chords. But whilst the album's expansiveness echoes past triumphs such as 2002's 'At Dawn' and the following year's 'It Still Moves', the new album's short on the kind of curveballs and marathon workouts that have provided many of the band's highpoints in the past.

Then again, it's hard to accuse an album radiating with this much charm and warmth of playing it safe. From the pulsating groove of opener 'Victory Dance' to the piano-led ache of the closing 'Movin' Away', 'Circuital doesn't put a foot wrong, with the gently rousing 'The Day Is Coming', 'Outta My System's vintage pop-hued account of wisdom brought on by ageing and the simultaneously ludicrous and irresistible combo of a defiant choir, falsetto vocals and foot-on-the-monitor rock action that's 'Holdin’ on to Black Metal' proving particularly potent.

All of which wilt next to the spine-tingling beauty of 'Wonderful (The Way I Feel)'. Apparently written for a forthcoming Muppets movie, it certainly packs enough stargazing awe and world-hugging warmth to qualify for a duet with Kermit The Frog, the track's uncluttered country ballad arrangement and connection to certain much-loved finger puppets suggesting that whilst their sound keeps evolving, My Morning Jacket are at peace with their past.

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