The Sleepy Jackson - Personality: One Was A Spider, One Was A Bird
Mike Mantin 06/08/2006
Even before you've heard the first glacial notes of The Sleepy Jackson's second album, it is clear they are no longer the quirky outfit of 2003's 'Lovers'. The ghastly cover art and cryptic name are already miles away from that album's messy sleeve scribbles and snappy title. In the actual music, though, this new-found indulgence helps create a few moments of utter brilliance (and, thankfully, there are no extreme delves into pretentiousness here). The album's opening clutch of songs are beautiful, string-laden gems which hit the perfect mark for a follow-up album: grander, denser, but also catchier. Gorgeous opener 'You Needed More' may occasionally hint of that dullest of second-album subject matter - life on tour ("we play the same songs in every town"), but they've taken the winning songwriting formula of 'Lovers' but turned it into an uplifting orchestral pop beauty: hushed strums give way to strings which sweep its chorus to new heights.
First single 'God Lead Your Soul' continues the good streak, its stop-start chorus fanfared by a grand brass section. It's adventurous, engaging and very, very pretty, with Beach Boys 'oohs' and 'aahs' everywhere. In fact, one of 'Personality''s main downfalls is that this overt influence can get tiring. Tracks like 'Higher Than Hell' and 'You Won't Bring People Down In My Town' seem to disguise their lack of ideas by being comprised solely of said ooh-ing. As the album detaches itself from the head-rush of the opening tracks, these more unmemorable songs seem to merge into one big blob of falsetto 'n' strings, only saved by the memorable choruses of 'Work Alone' and 'God Knows'. It's hard not to listen to in one go without getting bored, and though the new sound is a new step for the band, the album lacks the variety of its predecessor. You begin to long for the country twang of 'Lovers'' 'Come To This', which only pop up once on the sweet highlight 'Miles Away'.
Unlike 'Lovers', which had a number of styles with a high success rate, the most notable strays from the template on 'Personality' are commendable but often unbearable. The horriblly cheesy 'Play A Little Bit For Love' and 'I Understand What You Mean But I Just Don't Agree' are the worst offenders, with its disco-lite basslines drifting uncomfortably into overblown MOR territory. At worst, it sounds like a serious Scissor Sisters. Luckily, these two are the only times when the album's main problems really turn unpleasant, but for an album so overtly willing to step it up a notch, it's annoyingly samey. Luke Steele and his ever-rotating band may soon turn in their fully coherent masterpiece but, for all its pomp, 'Personality' is often devoid of the charm which made 'Lovers' such a treat, the flashes of magic only making it more frustrating.