Album Review: Savages – ‘Adore Life’

Adore LifeSafe to say a band who tell you to put down your cellphones and watch them instead are eager to have you absorb their performance, to become part of it rather than stare at them distractedly through someone else’s lens.

Make no bones though, Savages deserve your attention. Part scathing post-punk witch doctors, part alt.suffragettes jilted at their own altar, their début album ‘Silence Yourself‘ was clipped and confrontational in equal measure, the essence of the quartet’s anglo-French ying and mihilistic yang bottled from their Millennial bucket list live show.

Those performances rely to a great extent on the magnetism of Parisian born singer Jehnny Beth, her intensity uncommon in an age when musicians are unwilling or unable by dint of insecurity to confront their own audience.

Savages are, however, a band (Beth works with drummer Fay Milton, bass Ayse Hassan and guitar Gemma Thompson), the sort of unit that, as ‘Adore Life‘ demonstrates, is far from merely being a platform for Beth’s shrilling on-stage persona.

Working again with producer Johnny Hostile (aka Nicolas Conge, Beth’s former partner in their middling former indie rock duo John & Jehn), the quartet have stated that they set out to record a follow up album that was “as loud as possible”, but if that approach suggested power over control, the reality is something reassuringly far from either.

Whilst musically it isn’t difficult to relate to the band’s influences – Gang Of Four, Patti Smith, PJ Harvey – the patterns that ‘Adore Life’ weaves are more subtle than the broiling guitar of opener ‘The Answer‘ indicates. It’s true that Thompson remains here as in many other moments unfettered by any need to reign her squall in, but despite collar-grabbing aphorisms like “I’ll go insane”, Beth’s delivery – one not unlike that of the BansheesSiouxsie Sioux – is still held back, her inflections biding their time rather than lumping all their rawness on black.

There is a reason for this, one that arrives to the listener as a profound but self obvious revelation: ‘Adore Life’ is a love album. Beth herself is in love. But treat the phrase in its most literal sense and you have a clue to her state of mind. On ‘Sad Person‘ the subject is someone else and then herself, accusations flying at the phone and the mirror, lines like “I’m not going to hurt you, ‘cos I’m flirting with you, I’m not gonna help myself” revealing that the psychosis of need, romanticised by greetings card companies, is still a basic function of electro-chemical impulses and biology.

Most of the time then being in love (as opposed to the soporific, non-love of contentment most of us eventually give in to) sucks. The violence of this imbalance is best expressed on ‘T.W.I.Y.G‘, a maelstrom which finds the group as close to the edge as possible without the descent to madness. The finale ‘Mechanics‘, by contrast, is haunted by the ghostly images of aftermath, like a photo-negative without regret, Beth having given herself up willingly to the perfidious releases of lust and guilt.

Savages aren’t, of course, the first outfit unafraid to find affirmational joy in life’s more primeval impulses, but ‘Adore Life’s greatest moment of candour is in the half-title track ‘Adore‘, a bipolar exploration of an existence in which the mundane has been jettisoned and only the white knuckles of pure emotion that are left is vital. The song itself writhes, passing through phase after phase, at one point stopping dead in its tracks before a crescendo that could also pass for the light of consciousness blinking suddenly out.

Words like visceral, maverick and intensity are ones used too often in relation to music which doesn’t remotely warrant it; Savages make noise that is for people who want to feel it as well as hear it. To be punched, gouged, embraced and kissed by it. ‘Adore Life’ is their love album.

Best to think of it as a Valentines card from a stalker turned friend turned lover turned stalker – one that could go off in your face 365 days a year.

(Andy Peterson)

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