Adore Life, Adore Savages
Be here now. Live in the moment. Carpe diem. However you want to phrase it, this is the message of all great rock ’n’ roll—explicit in the lyrics, implied in the music, or in the case of Savages, both.
“I understand the urgency of life/In the distance there is truth which cuts like a knife/Maybe I will die maybe tomorrow so I need to say/I adore life,” Jehnny Beth sings midway through Adore Life, theatrically but oh-so-sincerely, seducing us but also scaring us a little bit, and as thoroughly undeniable as ever. Then her bandmates Gemma Thompson, Ayse Hassan, and Fay Milton—each of them as distinctive voices on, respectively, guitar, bass, and drums as Jenny Beth is as a front person—build from a whisper to a roar in an ever-building climax that evokes… who, exactly?
The temptation is to say Wire at its most frantic, Hüsker Dü at its most thunderous, Joy Division at its most hypnotic, or My Bloody Valentine at its most wall-of-noise chaotic. But while Savages have plenty of reference points—on their eagerly anticipated second album as on their 2013 debut Silence Yourself—they don’t really sound like anybody else. What they really prompt is that same electric jolt, part thrill of recognition and part sledgehammer introduction to the new, that many of us felt when first hearing any of those bands—as well, as I’ve said in the past, as Nirvana. (And it may be worth noting here how one of the new videos, for “The Answer,” pays subtle homage to the community of alternative misfits in that famous gym in “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”)
Honed in live performance, including a nine-night stint in New York, and produced once again by Jehnny Beth’s former musical partner Nicolas Congé/Johnny Hostile, much is being made of Adore Life being a collection of 10 love songs, albeit supremely twisted ones. Some are expressing surprise because they heard Silence Yourself as so angry that it bordered on nihilism. Maybe those folks never saw the band live; they certainly didn’t listen closely enough to the last album’s lyrics. Onstage and on record, Savages howled against solipsism and the alienating disconnection of modern life not in affirmation but in the strongest possible rejection. But anger, especially from very smart and self-assured women, can cause confusion in some corners.
As Thompson says in a brilliant profile of the band by Jon Pareles in The New York Times, “When it’s associated with women, anger is treated as a negative thing. It shouldn’t be. Anger in men or women, put in a positive way, creates things. It accelerates creation. And I think we put it in a very positive way on that record, and it made us stronger. We needed that at that time.”
That need purged, Savages felt free to spell out what has been evident in every note they’ve played: Life is worth celebrating, as is the sometimes elusive but very real ideal of love. So much so, in fact, that it’s impossible not to feel fury for anyone who would deny or impede that.
“Love is the answer,” Jehnny Beth sings in the choruses of the very first song on the new disc, and everything that follows amplifies that proudly un-ironic declaration. Not that there aren’t challenges. “If you don't love me/You don’t love anybody,” she warns at one point in crazy-eyes mode. “This is what you get when you mess with love/A morning in darkness, the eyes of dawn,” she howls elsewhere.
Yes, well, to quote William Goldman from The Princess Bride (a most un-Savages-like film—or is it?), “Life is pain… Anyone who says differently is selling something.” Savages aren’t selling anything, other than the notion that life is worth living, and, indeed, adoring. So, too, is this incredible band.
Savages, Adore Life (Matador)
Rating on the 4-star scale: 4 stars.