6. The Sleepy Jackson – Personality – One Was A Spider, One Was A Bird
In Barney Hoskins book Hotel California, photographer Nurit Wilde has this to say about Neil Young: “I thought that the ones whose lyrics I loved must be really smart. And I found out that some of them weren’t smart, they just seemed to have some sort of instinctive feel for words. Neil was one of those.” Reading that quote made me think of Luke Steele.
So let’s get right into the meat of it – Personality is a huge album. The name Brian Wilson was bandied about alot in reviews (along with George Harrison). Lots of strings, keyboards, backing vocals, whistles and bells. But it’s all done for emotional resonance, and backed up by some of Luke’s strongest and most coherent songs.
The big title, the big album cover and the big sound actually do too good a job at hiding what are really simple songs and simple, evocative and beautiful lyrics. Like Neil Young, Steele does in very few words what others take albums to do. “I gave you everything you needed/You needed more” says it all, so simply. In one of the album’s highlights – the stunning Miles Away – when Luke sings “I couldn’t tell you why I was so cold,” you don’t have to know what the hell the story is, it’s just a great line of regret. That song, like so many on this album, evokes the soaring ballads on After the Goldrush.
Again, the singles are the strongest songs. God Lead Your Soul and Devil In My Yard are pop classics, the later sounding like later era T.Rex, and far more guitars than a decade of Beach Boys records put together. But it’s the brilliantly titled I Understand What You Want But I Don’t Agree, with it’s nod to Raspberry Beret, that really shows how inventive Steele can be. For all his misses and experimentation can be forgiven for the slices of pop bliss that he finds. No other Australian musician would go so far for a song.
To the charges of overproduction, I will say, yeah, maybe. It’s no more produced than All Things Must Pass, most baroque pop bands (Left Banke etc) or even Beck and Elliott Smith. It’s lush, but it’s hardly symphonic. And it’s so much better than being a cliche driven four piece, like the oufits that ex-members of this band tend to form. It fits nicely next to Wilco’s Summerteeth and Phoenix’s United.
It’s sad that this album wasn’t a hit like Lovers. It’s possibly better. So much more coherent than that record, Personality should have done for the Sleepy Jackson was Unit did for Regurgitator. Stelle is still the only artist in Australia capable of making something on the level of OK Computer, because he’s the only one willing to go so far, and so loudly.
Detractors can stay in your fucking little indie band and write your fucking little indie songs.