The Sleepy Jackson: Personality (One Was a Spider, One Was a Bird)

The Sleepy Jackson
Personality (One Was a Spider, One Was a Bird)

On first listen of their sophomore album, the new direction taken by this Australian group seems to be no red-letter announcement. As on 2003's Lovers, guitars gently weep, Luke Steele does his best Marc Bolan impression, and the combination of the two is soothing, bittersweet, and more than a little retro. Steele skips so many syllables that the lyrics don't even register, and parenthetical album titles are just artsy for the sake of being artsy, right? But the track listing drops stronger hints about the album's meaning—song titles reference the devil, hell, and salvation, giving more than one shout-out to God. Yep, this boy's been born again.

The trio—whose other members move through a constantly revolving door—have always shared glam rock's theatrical aesthetics, so it's hard to say whether the biblical imagery on Personality is just a step up from Steele dabbing shimmer on his lids. (In the liner art, the band's last supper banquet is strewn with black cats, doughnuts, and a Roy Orbison LP.) Then again, if discovering Jesus makes for a concept album, then bluesmen have recorded a hell of a lot of concept albums. Steele reconfigures their traditional stanzas as Brian Wilson compositions, gussying up lines like "Devil was in my yard/But the devil ain't in my yard no more" with falsetto harmonies, slide guitar, and a string section. As if the spiritual needed a further update, Personality occasionally nudges it towards the dance floor. "I Understand What You Want But I Just Don't Agree," which straddles the border between '70s AM gold and light-handed disco complete with soul sister back-up, is the band at their most divine.

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