Belle and Sebastian fans are used to surprises by now. “Dear Catastrophe Waitress” and “Tigermilk” may sound like different bands to people who are not hip to the zig-zaggy sonic road trip that the band have taken us on for so many years. This evolution in sound is largely due to lead guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Stevie Jackson, whose contribution to the band has been an injection of 60’s style pop, and catchy riffs – a foot-tapping contrast to the more introspective, folksy sound of the band’s earlier recordings. Jackson is definitely the rocker in the bunch.
Hearing Jackson fly solo for the first time on “(I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson” is not only a fun ride, it also gives you a bit of insight and appreciation for his role in Belle and Sebastian. A comfortable mix of what you may and may not expect, at times the production swells with orchestral elements and reverberated vocal harmonies, reminding one of bands like The Association or The Byrds, while at other times songs cling to the familiar storytelling against a backdrop of good old fashioned rock and roll.
On the track “Kurosawa”, Stevie sings “Honor thy music, honor thy love” and on this album he absolutely does. The track “Just, Just So To The Point” is a composition of sexy baselines and mellow vocal alliteration that will have you dancing in your chair – and possibly updating your Netflix queue with gems like Shaft, Jackie Brown, or maybe some Mod Squad episodes – while “Try Me”, the humorous “Press Send”, and “Where Do All The Good Girls Go” sound more familiar and expected, but harder-sounding with Stevie running the show. He injects some Sergeant Pepper into the latter, sprinkles others with rockabilly, and adds extremely well-integrated guitar solos to all – making all of these tracks ROCK. Jackson’s clearly not afraid of production – and that lack of fear translates into perfectly produced songs, for instance on “Man of God” where he sounds like he started channeling Mike Nesmith and Phil Spector, but eventually he re-entered his own body to compile his creation with his ever clever lyrics and distinct guitar stylings. There are plenty of personal, introspective, singer-songwriter tracks on the album too, but even crooners like “Telephone Song” use well placed cellos to back up the acoustic guitar and vocals, and the chorus swells with a crescendo of strings that take you higher.
Jackson’s point of view is clear, but his range is extremely wide, and he certainly shows us that in this album. Yes, it’s a showcase of sorts, but this being his first solo release, so he has a lot to say. Still, it’s a solid album of work. Twelve tracks, and I still can’t get enough Stevie Jackson.