Prisoner is not the album I was expecting it to be at all. Thinking back on the time that I had the chance to sit and talk with The Jezabels for a few minutes during SxSw this year, they seemed so laid back. I never would have guessed that their full-length album would be so aggressive and powerful. Everything happened so fast down there that I only had a chance to listen to one of their three previous EP’s, Dark Storm. It was good, but nowhere near the juggernaut that Prisoner is.
The selling point for the band is vocalist Hayley Mary (the one member not present for our interview). Her voice demands attention and it’s almost hard to focus on anything else at times. She reminds me of a few people mixed together (Kim Carnes, Ann Wilson, Stevie Nicks), but she is wholly original and amazing. The album has a bonus disc of a few demos, and the track “Noah’s Ark” is something I could listen to over and over. She has an almost operatic quality to her voice that is unlike anything currently going.
The album itself has some definite high points as well. Lead tune and title-track, “Prisoner,” starts off with some ominous synths, not unlike something you may hear on a Muse record. The song has a constant sense of foreboding, and the drumming of Nik Kaloper is unrelenting. As the song gets closer to the end, Mary’s voice gets higher and higher in pitch, but never quite reaches the howl that she achieves later in the record.
The next song, “Endless Summer,” kicks off a theme that runs through most of the record, which is a bit of 80’s homage. It’s the sort of thing that can be handled poorly, but the Jezabels do it well and keep it fresh. I could easily see Susanna Hoffs or Animotion doing this song 30 years ago and nailing it. Still, it’s a well put together song and I like the tribute to music that has influenced all of us in some way.
“City Girl” is one of my favorites of the Prisoner-proper songs. The way it’s constructed is what makes it work, because if you read the lyrics, it doesn’t seem that strong:
Someone will hand you a sweet proposition one day
And you’ll say, say, “G’day
How you doin’ Fortune?”
You’ll be a city girl soon.
Not great lyrics. But the phrasing used by Mary, and the music that surrounds the words, makes it work. I think it’s actually a really great radio song, and I would recommend stations to play it. I guarantee it would get a good response.
The rest of the record mixes a lot of industrial and chamber pop music to create a dark, menacing atmosphere. Always with a silver lining coming in the form of Mary’s vocals. “Nobody Nowhere” turns into a psychedelic nightmare in the last minute or so of the song, and it’s just the right amount of crazy.
Prisoner was released back in September in the band’s native Australia, and will be out in the US November 8th in digital form via Mom+Pop. They are going to be touring through the states starting this month, and I will be attending the show here in Chicago on the 19th. Hopefully this will be a good tour for them. I’m sure it isn’t cheap to come over from Australia and bring all their gear, so let’s make it worth their while to come back often.
Below you’ll find the interview I did with the band in March. It’s a wonder we got together at all. The week was so hectic that I really didn’t have a clue what I was talking about for the most part. So, if it sounds like I’m a little lost in parts (like the beginning, middle, and end), that’s why.