The Jezabels have triumphed supremely in the face of tragic adversity with the release of their third studio album, Synthia. After forming almost a decade ago, last month came with the shocking public revelation the band’s keyboardist, Heather Shannon, had been fighting a private battle with a unique form of ovarian cancer over the past three years. Required to undergo renewed emergency treatment, Shannon’s condition forced the cancellation of the band’s upcoming world tour; no doubt a simultaneously heartbreaking, yet unquestionably straightforward decision to come to.
Tour or not, such circumstance fails to take away from the fact that Synthia is a powerfully emotive and thought-provoking masterpiece – and perhaps the best Australian album of the decade so far. Unlike so many albums, which quickly merge into a haze of forgettable tunes, each of Synthia’s ten tracks are equally impressive and distinctive, despite the album’s deceptively lengthy run-time of 55 minutes.
“And it’s something quite unfair in the underlying scene, that she wants the same success but she’s lacking in the breeding.” – Stand And Deliver
Book-ended with two seven-minute, cinematic epics, Synthia is an album inspiring female empowerment, despite the multitude of imposed burdens, and now evolves to become an ode to and somewhat synonymous with Shannon’s health battle. Album opener ‘Stand And Deliver’ hallmarks this idea, noting, “And it’s something quite unfair in the underlying scene, that she wants the same success but she’s lacking in the breeding.”
Perhaps the band attempts to highlight the cruel and unjust illness that has befallen Shannon and stunted her soaring career; or, with a little irony, subtly suggests that such sickness could not physically exist in a male. It’s impossible to know for sure, but the closing sister song ‘Stamina’ lovingly promises “We’re going to hold on for you”, set amidst a crashing crescendo of determination from lead vocalist Hayley Mary’s sublime falsetto tones.
Such varied reading can be interpreted throughout ‘My Love Is My Disease’; an exhilarating and propulsive stadium anthem, thanks mostly to drummer Nik Kaloper’s impressively intricate work with the sticks. The song is a deeply personal reflection riddled with disparate guilt and steeped in shameful regret, birthed from a failure to adhere to the traditional expectations of suppressing one’s sexual desires as a woman. Such values are overcome with the seductively playful ‘Smile’, which retorts with a barbed warning against such social beliefs and conformity that people from all aspects of life can appreciate.
It’s at this point in the album that it quickly becomes clear that The Jezabels have not only immediately validated their status as one of Australia’s best new bands, but as a figurehead and touchstone of a new, modern age feminist rock group; providing a voice that speaks loudly for all groups repressed and rejected. With this release, Mary also stakes her claim as a global phenomenon, with her breathtaking, incredibly versatile voice and evocative and stimulating lyrics, supported by her tremendous, towering melodies.
“I’m a showstopper, baby and I’m born to be.” – Unnatural
For such a cohesive album with so many individual highlights, perhaps the track which best connects the band’s directive with current social values comes in ‘A Message From My Mothers Passed’. By its conclusion, the seemingly inspiring song has become a satirical mockery of the projected female values and empowerment, first encouraging that “Whatever you do little girl, Just hold your head up high”, before suddenly advising caution to “Lie safely in the middle ground”. Such a muted warning at the song’s end seems to imply that while at times women may be encouraged to follow their career ambitions with no limits as to what they can achieve, many still subconsciously fear or realise that it is still very much a ‘Man’s World’.
Between the aforementioned performances of Mary’s transcendent vocals and the compelling beats provided by Kaloper, lie Shannon’s sweeping synth tones and vast variety of whimsical keyboard riffs that are sure to thrill any new wave, synth-pop lovers. Through all this, it’s almost easy to forget guitarist Sam Lockwood, whose subtle liquid ripples quickly transform with swirling effects and washes that effortlessly envelop the tracks in a shimmering glaze. The perfect balance struck between the sound levels of instrumentation is a testament to producer Lachlan Mitchell, who also worked with the band for their first full-length release, Prisoner.
“What’s a nipple and a laugh?” – Pleasure Drive
But it’s with the album’s second single and seventh track ‘Pleasure Drive’ that The Jezabels are at their most playfully commanding. “What’s a nipple and a laugh?” Mary’s flirtatious vocals tease, in a resounding, explosive climax at the track’s chorus, which like many of the album’s tracks grew from and atmospheric calm to operatic epiphany within a moment’s notice. Like the album itself, ‘Pleasure Drive’ undoubtedly has the potential to become a worldwide hit in both mainstream and indie markets.
Synthia is on all fronts the perfect album, and would deserve such recognition. Though the band garnered some international acclaim before their official debut was even released, the promising four-piece have here proven the hype surrounding their initial EPs and debut album was not unfounded. Their overarching motifs and values are highly relevant, without the songs suffering and becoming tired and repetitive, while the lyrics are creative, organic and positively provoking.
This is the bold pronouncement of a band set to one day soon take the world by storm.