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“When we started, we just wanted to be more radical than any band around us,” Jehnny Beth, Savages’ lead vocalist and lyricist, confessed to the New York Times back in 2012, just one year removed from the group’s formation. “Play fast and loud, and be as minimalist and simplistic as we could in the songwriting.”
With their acclaimed, Mercury prize shortlisted 2013 debut album Silence Yourself, the London-based all-female quartet accomplished said mission, establishing themselves as formidable post-punk revivalists with a penchant for crafting simultaneously austere and thrilling songs. Containing echoes of the sonic dissonance perfected by universally revered bands like Joy Division, Sonic Youth and Sleater-Kinney, Savages combine an affinity for the past with their desire to craft songs squarely planted in the contemporary here and now. Aiding their hybrid retro-modern aesthetic is the fact that Beth’s sharp-tongued vocals and stark, cogently constructed lyrics most closely conjure those of Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and Siouxsie Sioux.
Released this past Friday, the band’s sophomore album Adore Life resembles its precursor in its clarity of vision, predicated upon an intensity equal parts cerebral and visceral. But there are discernible differences as well, most notably manifested in the presence of more sprawling, melodic grooves amid the group’s signature guitar-driven distortion, and the central thematic focus on love in all of its many forms. A recent manifesto posted on the group’s website crystallizes the primary impetus behind the album, declaring that “Most of all it’s about love, every kind of love. Love is the answer.”
Indeed, the blistering power of the most supreme emotion burns throughout the entire 10-track affair. Album opener and first single “The Answer” is an adrenalized grinder, with Beth serving up the interrogative refrain “If you don’t love me / You don’t love anybody / Ain’t you glad it’s you?” On the rumbling “Sad Person,’ Beth summons Roxy Music’s 1975 hit “Love is the Drug,” suggesting that “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.” Toward the album’s conclusion, she admonishes “This is what you get when you mess with love” on the searing “T.I.W.Y.G.”
Other standout songs may not explore love explicitly, but it’s bubbling just beneath the surface nevertheless. With a sonic nod to Joy Division’s more propulsive fare, the band takes homophobia to task on the poignant “The Evil,” proclaiming that the myopic elements among us will “Soak your actions in self-doubt / If you don't live the way they like / They'll make you feel jealousy / Only one way to raise a family.” The piercing mantra of “I Need Something New” celebrates the rush and solace one covets in breaking from the monotony of routine. Unveiled as the second single a few weeks ago, the introspective conflict of conscience “Adore” poses the question of whether enjoying life is justified, when so many others are unable to do the same. It’s a beautifully subdued confessional that calls to mind Cowboy Junkies’ and The Smiths’ most solemn and self-reflective songs, while demonstrating Savages’ versatility beyond their hard-driving arrangements.
The album’s title itself exemplifies Savages’ duality, one that straddles the lines between sentimental and severe, light and dark, soft and hard. Is “Adore Life” an uplifting credo designed to inspire or a direct commandment to be obeyed? Regardless of the band’s true disposition, the convergence of Beth’s gripping vocals and lyrics with bassist Ayse Hassan, drummer Fay Milton, and guitarist Gemma Thompson’s masterful instrumentation produces an infectious noise that demands and deserves your rapt attention. More to the point, Adore Life is a life-affirming work that you’re bound to adore.
Notable Tracks: “Adore” | “Sad Person” | “The Answer” | “The Evil” | “T.I.W.Y.G.”
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