Released: January 22, 2016
Label: Matador Records
Welcome to the comedown machine. Savages are back in 2016 in an ever self-indulgent mystique, yet are found this time around with a new, refined maturity. The vortex of raw power and dark energy are halted in many regards to a slower paced, adroit execution of punk. On their debut, 2013’s Silence Yourself, waves of crashing intensity were carried by lead singer Jehnny Beth’s howling screams and abrasive gothic influence in climatic bursts. Now, Beth and the band find their muse in carefully guided appeals to discovering the purest of loves, her lyricism weighing deep reflections of empathy and self-doubt, and there arising out of the ashes a stronger being entirely. This course of action prominently favors an artful execution of punk rock, all the while maintaining the familiar post-punk flavor that garnered Savages praise in their early stages.
Adore Life dives right into the fray, beginning with a simple guitar riff and Jehnny Beth’s robotic vocals, chanting in her meditative state, “If you don’t love me, don’t love anybody”. Frantic internal conflict rears its ugly head on tracks like opener “The Answer”, but also possess a combative yearning to fight off foolish snares intertwined with falling in love, and the fallacies of faulty human desires. Each song exists as a journey of all of these different aspects of an inelegant piece of human companionship. Beth experiences lust, jealousy, bitterness, and anger in each emotional entry into the Savages catalog, yet each track stands out as an inside look into her own personal whirlwind of self-loathing, even given all of these less than desirable characteristics peering out.
As a band, Savages continue to make strides forward as a cohesive unit in sync with each other’s tendencies. Silence Yourself allowed for fellow bandmates Ayse Hassan, Gemma Thompson, and Fay Milton to fire on all cylinders with rupturing expression of power and noise, almost to an extent that one or two instruments overshadowed the presence of the other members. Compare this to Bill Simmons’ NYT best selling “The Book of Basketball”. Where Beth and company commence the record with “The Answer”, perhaps a better encapsulation of their growth as a band is explained due in part by Simmons’ own crafted definition of “the secret” in sports, that is, the sacrifice of personal glory for the good of your team as a whole. Savages are coming into their own as a band, having now released their sophomore effort. They are much more musically sound and tight-knit, and you hear it on record in the production and in the instrumentation. Often times on Silence Yourself, it was as if the bass or the vocals were so domineering, anything else had to take a backseat spot along the ride. There are equally punishing climaxes of sound and emotion, but this time, the bass and guitar, combined with punching drums are much more in tune with Beth’s sorrowful yelps.
For what it’s worth, each song on Adore Life derives from candid pop melodies and rhythms drenched by disguised guitars wrought with distortion and feedback. For instance, the bassline in “Slowing Down the World” is incredibly catchy, providing opportunity again to wallow in the vocals. Pair that with the inherent dark passages of the allusions of love. In addition, Jehnny Beth breaks out a statement stanza on “Sad Person” that well encapsulates the themes of the record as a whole:
“Love is a disease
The strongest addiction I know
What happens in the brain
Is the same as the rush of cocaine
The more you have
The more you crave.”
Adore Life at its core is a slower listen, wallowing in its own introspective candor. The formula hearkens to your run-of-the-mill local slam poetry night. It’s easy to decipher when the narrator is speaking something of greater importance to their audience when they emanate specific cues in their verse and demeanor. Beth countless times on record will pause dramatically in delivery, screech certain diction or syllables of a word, and repeat lines over again to hammer the emotion home. In fact, on “Evil”, the title word itself is uttered 32 consecutive times over slowly building drums to close the track. It can work in the band’s favor for emphatic purposes, sure, but the gag wears thin over the course of the record, and Savages play that game on every track. Not that these aspects of her songwriting are totally off putting, but such a formulaic depiction of motifs can leave a bit more to be desired.
Each song on Adore Life is that like an act of a playwright, the masterminds behind the madness constructing these ten separate chemical bursts of power. Call it stale song structure if you will, but the metaphorical depiction of this “roller coaster” method of songwriting works for Savages in the way they best intended to captivate their audience. A track will start quiet, either whittled together by eerie, distorted guitar riffs, or a buzzing, bass groove, next to crescendo into a chaotic apex of loudness, only to come back down again before the next song begins. Like a junkie craving their next score, Adore Life is the very drug they use to personify an interpretation of this bleak yet captivating love, carefully reeling the listener in hook, line, and sinker. Adore Life is brooding, sophisticated, and above all, an interesting step in a learned direction of artful influences. I’d be hard pressed to label much an ounce of originality in almost any prominent musical act today, but what Savages have going for them is the continued surge of fresh blood in today’s post-punk revival, and these ladies are destined to remain near the forefront of the movement as long as they continue to push their own personal boundaries.