Despite a lack of international acclaim, Australian indie quartet The Jezabels have achieved a reasonable amount of success in their homeland since they formed in 2007. Early EPs The Man Is Dead and She So Hard, which were both released in 2009, gained significant airplay from numerous radio stations, with Triple J Unearthed even choosing them as a featured artist at the end of the same year.
The momentum continued to build with the release of their debut album Prisoner late in 2011, which peaked at No. 2 on the ARIA Albums Chart and won Best Independent Release at the ARIA Music Awards in 2012. But while the record did receive some attention in the UK, comparisons to Florence And The Machine and Fleetwood Mac – to name just a couple that cropped up in reviews – did not do them any favours.
However, two years on from the release of Prisoners, The Jezabels return with their second effort The Brink, with the intention of taking their sound in a new direction. It is clear they mean business as well, recruiting producer Dan Grech-Marguerat (Radiohead, Lana Del Rey) to work his magic on their latest release. It is a move that undoubtedly shows their ambition, but the production alone is unable to mask the same issues that plagued their debut.
That said, when they are on form, The Jezabels really do sound like a band worthy of far more attention. Their most promising features are on display for all to see on the title track which opens the record, with its dramatic, crashing drums and driving guitar riff conjuring up a swarming, melancholic atmosphere. It’s quickly followed by the undeniably ’80s pop of Look Of Love, which sees lead vocalist Hayley Mary channel her inner Kate Bush.
As well as the impact of a new producer, The Jezabels’ recent touring experiences with acts such as Imagine Dragons and Depeche Mode has obviously had an influence on the scope of their ambition. The ideas are much bigger on The Brink, such as on the infectious Beat To Beat, where stabbing synths lead the way on its anthemic chorus. “All of my things I don’t want/ all the things I don’t need/ are weighing me down,” Mary sings, with her higher pitched tone.
Yet when The Jezabels lose focus and direction, their so-called “intensindie” – which is the dreadful name they labelled their own music with – can be painfully MOR. Time To Dance is a perfect example of their tendency to allow songs to drift aimlessly, with its searching guitar riff and repetitive beat going nowhere particularly fast. Pacing problems are also something that affect No Country, where the wondering melody only serves to expose the song’s cliché lyrics.
“I don’t see a way out/ it’s like a roller coaster going round and round/ in my childhood holiday”, Mary exclaims during the track, before it eventually kicks into gear towards its conclusion. However, where other songs fail, The End succeeds, demonstrating The Jezabels’ ability to produce a straightforwardly enthralling slice of pop. It’s by no means groundbreaking, or even a drastic change in direction, but it does leave a mark, which is more than can be said for much of the rest of the album.
Although The Brink does sound more assured and accomplished than their debut, The Jezabels’ return poses a number of problems, the most central of which being that it is just far too pedestrian. Very few of its ten tracks grab the listener’s attention, while the emphasis on more personal lyrics never pays off in the way it should. After the moderate success of Prisoner, The Brink should have been the band’s chance to really show what they could do. Unfortunately, the end result is a missed opportunity.