It's a fine question to ponder as the curtain rises on The Jezabels' third album. High expectations are a given now, seven years since those first EPs began their slow burn from Sydney to the world; four since PRISONER scooped the Australian Music Prize and set stages ablaze from Splendour to Lollapalooza.
"What's it gonna be? Maybe it's a broken heart."
Yeah, they know that feeling too, after the turmoil of illness and dislocation surrounding their aptly titled second album, THE BRINK. Don't even ask. Just cue a second #2 debut and another spectacular global onslaught.
What's a band to do? The answer is short but loaded to the teeth. SYNTHIA.
The title gets Hayley Mary talking in pictures as big as the music itself. From the Greek goddess of the moon to '80s synth-pop goddess Cyndi Lauper. From The Heroine's Journey to the rock world's simplistic perception of the synthetic feminine versus the authentic male.
All that's between the lines, of course. The Jezabels didn't choose their biblical namesake at random when Hayley and Heather met Sam and Nik at Sydney Uni almost a decade ago. Their deeply felt gender agenda has only grown more potent and personal as the world bends slowly to its fury.
Here their Trojan horse of big, cinematic rock has escalated in scale. With PRISONER producer Lachlan Mitchell back at the desk and Heather's growing arsenal of new and vintage keyboards¬ pushing the textural frontier, SYNTHIA is a bold assertion of craft that sets this band apart in a world groaning with blokes doing their best impersonation of rock authenticity.
"Heather had a couple of new synthesisers, so a lot of ideas were coming from her and then we'd build the songs around them," Hayley says. "We were back in Sydney [from London] in January, we just got together to rehearse and we wrote about four songs in a week.
"This is a record we made ourselves, at our own behest," she says significantly. "People were actually surprised when they heard it was happening. We were surprised. We just had a natural momentum."
"The sound keeps growing," says Mitchell, who witnessed the songs' evolution over nearly seven months in the studio. "Sam's guitar has transformed into this big, cinematic thing enveloped by effects and washes… Nik is the guy that gives the power and the intricacy to all of that. He's always time-shifting, thinking up new parts to suit the big picture."
SYNTHIA plays like a widescreen heroine's journey in 10 parts — or maybe 11, if you count the swooning opening dream sequence of Stand And Deliver, with its spoken word invocation of Shirley Temple via Edie Sedgwick.
The far bookend is Stamina, another seven-minute drama that rises from liquid guitar ripples to an ecstatic, crashing crescendo of drums and determination.
The pendulum swings from ether calm to operatic epiphany within the space of any given song. The electronic glitch and thrash of My Love Is My Disease balances the symphonic undulations of A Message From My Mothers Passed.
The sinuous groove and sigh of Smile and the sensuous swing and electro burbles of Pleasure Drive find the band forging breathtaking new scaffolds of rhythm and melody for stories that have never been more timely.
"Previously I've shrouded myself a lot in mystery and the language of romanticism; played roles and stuff — which reflected some kind of truth about how I felt as a woman," Hayley says.
"Now I feel like I can be much more upfront about all that. The truth about how it feels to be a woman has become a much more prominent part of the general conversation in the last couple of years," she says. "These are exciting times. I think we've made an album that celebrates that."