The Sleepy Jackson

    Personality (One Was a Spider. One Was a Bird.)


    Here’s summer: lush, wide-open spaces; seesaw harmony; guitar-hearts; gorgeous, echoing melodies; naked declarations of freedom and independence. Luke Steele, as the force and mind behind the Sleepy Jackson, makes these mini-symphonies out of the simplest questions and most innocent brain-poking, then bends them to their breaking points, interrupting flights, changing directions, finding new destinations. It’s a perfect set of head-tunes that taps into all that is special about warm weather: the hopes, the heightened sensations, the climbing and the fading, the endless happiness.


    It’s quite possible that Steele intended it this way. He mentally configured Personality, the follow-up to 2003’s Lovers, over two years and knocked out the recording in three months’ studio time in Sydney, Australia early last year. But there was still some tweaking he felt needed done, mainly in the vocals, some of which were reworked in hotel rooms and at Steele’s flat in Perth. The long-short-long process brings up Steele’s most transparent influences: the soaring, slide-easy choruses are totally Morrissey; making it feel that way is definitely Brian Wilson.


    But citing mainstays such as the Smiths and the Beach Boys is boring, and the Sleepy Jackson, with its campy, Logo TV-themed exorcisms, is much too colorful for parameters. There’s a theatricality that’s akin to the Decemberists, but the sweet disco-bobs of “I Understand What You Want But I Just Don’t Agree” and “Play a Little Bit for Love” suggest a more outwardly grandness, a notion supported by the Baz Luhrmann-aping album cover. Luke Steele wants you to notice these things.


    When the chugging rhythm is traded in for odder toys (sleigh bells, electric piano, clip-clops, acoustic guitar), the effects remain just as sweeping. Steele excels at swelling build-ups and one-man-orchestra-posturing, but when he drops the act and strips down, as he does in “Miles Away” and “How Was I Supposed to Know?” he’s an even bigger star. The beautiful strings and trumpets — a lot of angelic imagery happening here — push him higher and add something of a dream-world touch, but they’re little more than elements sometimes. It’s Steele who’s making the seasons change, after all.


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