Review Summary: Getting into a consolidating groove… For better or worse.
Witnessing The Jezabels live in concert during mid-2012 was an interesting experience. Having practically gone from local nobodies to worldwide stars in the matter of a heartbeat, the Australian indie-rockers seemed almost embarrassed to be headlining a show to a 5,000 strong audience. While a force to be reckoned with on stage, their setlist order craved immediate attention, while the lack of banter felt uncomfortable for all concerned. The by-product of three acclaimed EPs and superb debut LP ‘Prisoner’; the greater attention given to The Jezabels was always going to bring about a fascinating reaction. Would their follow-up release look to take over the world by stretching their soaring stadium-sized sound even further, or would the quartet retreat into their introverted shells for the sake of consolidative comfort? On ‘The Brink’, the latter is closer to the truth, although this Dan Grech-Marguerat produced album is far from an MGMT-like transformation.
While the tours would have come too late in proceedings to strongly influence ‘The Brink’, the record does appear to have taken inspiration from two support slots The Jezabels performed in November of 2013: for The Pixies and Depeche Mode. Best exemplified by its opening title track and propulsive lead single ‘The End’, swathes of sweeping synthesizers add even more dense layers to the band’s sound, while Nik Kaloper’s insistent drums and Sam Lockwood’s Edge-like guitars lock into a muscular groove that builds momentum for a satisfying slow-kill. Meanwhile, out front, Hayley Mary’s versatile vocal range is as expressive, enchanting & seductive as ever. Unlike previous releases however, the major concern for The Jezabels is that ‘The Brink’ either overdoes this formula, or struggles when veering away from it. Those insistent drums soon become incessant, while a slow-kill doesn’t necessarily work when it builds up to a climax that never really eventuates.
With each of their captivating previous releases continuing to grow their sound by seamlessly exploring new visions, nuances and boundaries, many will feel that the increased reliance on Heather Shannon’s synths result in the quartet’s poppiest and most playful record to date. The title of ‘Time to Dance’ speaks for itself, while ‘Look of Love’ and ‘Beat to Beat’ unabashedly display their retro ‘80s influences. Unfortunately, these synth(bordering on electro)-pop leanings do not suit the band - to the point where The Jezabels’ pop nous was exhibited more proficiently when they were simply rocking out. Another slightly grating issue with these tunes is Mary using her higher register for the majority of their running times. It’s an ill-fitting decision which is as baffling as Mary’s always cryptic lyrics, that even include awkward references to “Beyonce” and “Tupac”.
In promoting ‘The Brink”, Mary has been quoted as saying “We were facing the second album thing, which is a cliché, but straight-up true". If any band had laid the groundwork to overcome the so-called “sophomore slump”, then it would be The Jezabels, since their constant evolution through three EPs and an LP was quite astonishing. In fairness, there is nothing approaching awful here and the quartet are undoubtedly a victim of their already superlative discography. Unlike predecessor ‘Prisoner’, however, the tracks which come closest to being considered filler, don’t do a great deal to enhance the overall listening experience. 'The Brink' is less immediate than all of the band's prior releases and is indeed a grower when given time to settle. What it does lack is a certain excitement, whether it be individual moments, entire songs or even future potential. Whereas previously The Jezabels were on the edge of super-stardom, it is now a little more uncertain just what they are on the brink of.
Recommended Tracks: The End, The Brink, Time to Dance & Got Velvet.