Release Date: Jul 3, 2012
Record label: Banchory
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Since he penned "Seymour Stein" for 1998's The Boy with the Arab Strap, Belle & Sebastian guitarist Stevie Jackson usually contributed at least one song per album. The tunes were nice counterpoints to Stuart Murdoch's and proved Jackson to have a nice way with a hook and a jangle. On his debut solo album, (I Can't Get No) Stevie Jackson, the initial question might be whether he could pull off an entire album's worth of songs all by himself.
Stevie Jackson, Belle and Sebastian ever-present, has set out in search of a solo sound with his retro-styled sensibilities and a bevy of songwriting talent. (I Can't Get No) Stevie Jackson is the result: an LP with a long gestation period but a short attention span that revels in 1960s pop music and is as fun as it is jangling. Perhaps Belle and Sebastian fans will be most inclined to fall in love with Stevie Jackson's solo explorations, but that would be an awfully simplistic approach.
If there was an award for the best pun of 2011, then Belle & Sebastian’s second in command would have the title sewn up. What came first, the desire to record an album away from his main group, or the groan inducing name for it? Either way, it’s an interesting way of managing expectations as you’re introduced to Stevie Jackson’s solo world – from the title onwards, you know that this isn’t going to be the most serious of endeavours. That’s not to say that Stevie’s album is a throwaway vanity project.
Stevie Jackson joined Belle and Sebastian about 15 years ago, and he's been playing hard to get ever since. As guitarist-vocalist for Glasgow's preeminent indie pop outfit, Jackson typically contributes only a track or two per LP. While frontman Stuart Murdoch has been busy with new project God Help the Girl, and former bandmate Isobel Campbell has put out album after album with gravelly-voiced collaborator Mark Lanegan, Jackson has pretty much limited his extracurricular activities to covers, soundtrack work, and instrumental appearances.
It’s impossible not to wonder if Stevie Jackson’s long-in-coming solo debut is what Belle and Sebastian would sound like in an alternate reality without Stuart Murdoch, as hard as it is to imagine the beloved pop collective without its inimitable frontman. Maybe (I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson should be appreciated on its own terms, but there’s a temptation, subconscious or not, to think of it as an opportunity to take stock of Jackson’s capabilities and compare them to Murdoch’s prodigious talents. On the one hand, the album is a reminder that it’s often easy to underestimate Jackson’s contributions to Belle and Sebastian’s success, not just musically, but also in the way he took on many of the gladhanding tasks that Murdoch shied away from as the outfit was beginning to take off.
Let’s face it – despite its penchant for whimsy and sprightliness, indie pop band Belle and Sebastian remains among the most divisive acts of our time. They may be perched in the upper echelon of indie music’s infamously dogmatic coterie, but the Scottish septet is also perennially categorized as precious – a word that, in these circles, has an effect similar to that of a presidential candidate whose name and “scandal” appear in the same sentence. I’ll admit that my introduction to the Glasgow collective was not one of positive affirmation.