Savages – Adore Life (Album Review)

Savages follow up their stunning debut album with another winner.  Is it too early to announce the album of the year?

The opening track on Savages 2013 Mercury-nominated debut album began with a snippet of dialogue from a John Cassavetes film.  This time around, the London-based quartet has set aside their arty proclivities for the emotional weight of lead single, The Answer which begins with Jehnny Beth singing, or shrieking, “If you don’t love me, you don’t love anybody!” Meanwhile the band, guitarist Gemma Thompson, bass player Ayse Hassan and drummer Fay Milton, come barrelling in at full throttle, distorted guitar riffs blazing over the pummelling rhythm section.

If this doesn’t get your attention, nothing will.

This is followed by Evil, an equally intense track that builds up to a thrilling climax thanks to Milton’s powerful drumming. Lyrically, Beth seems to be channelling John Lennon’s Working Class Hero…”They’ll make you feel jealousy, only one way to raise a family, squeeze your brain till you forget, why it is you’re so afraid.”

Overall the band is still mining that same post-punk mine…Joy Division, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Wire…that they did so well on the first album. Yes, the sounds are rooted in the early 80s, but they have updated it enough, with help from producer Johnny Hostile, to sound absolutely contemporary.

Speaking of early-80s, I found myself thinking of the criminally-underrated San Franciscan band Romeo Void while listening to Sad Person, another tune that revolves around sexual politics, love and need. In this case love is the drug…specifically cocaine.

The centrepiece of the album is Adore, a slow-cooking austere number that is dark, desolate and forlorn. Beth’s vocal is haunting and powerful, and as she sings the chorus…”I adore life, do you adore life”, I can’t help but think of David Bowie…perhaps this is the first in “post-Bowie” music. As Beth intones her way through the song, Thompson’s guitar crackles underneath, underpinning the lyrics perfectly. A breath-taking performance.

The remaining six songs are louder and explore more of the same love/sex issues set up in the earlier tracks.

I Need Something New finds the protagonist desperate for new thrills, but equally desperate to bring along her partner. “I’m kicking the wall!” she screams.

When In Love goes further, exploring a potential destructive relationship with intensity and fury. “Is it bad, the things we do when in love,” she asks, punctuating her vocal with a trademark “ha!”, when the tension becomes too much for words.

T.I.W.Y.G. (This is what you get) is another frantic rocker with a thunderous bass line. If this were a metal band, they’d be wailing on the double bass drums on this one. The track eventually breaks down and ends with canned laughter and applause, releasing the tension built up during the previous three minutes.

Adore Life finishes with the moody Mechanics, built around an ominous synth chord and a scratchy guitar line. The sexual politics continue as Beth checks her options…”When I take a man or a woman, they’re both the same, they’re both human,” and finally, “When I take a man at my command, my love will stand the test of time.”

I’m guessing that Adore Life will stand the test of time as well. Required listening.

Marty Duda

Click here to listen to When In Love from Adore Life:

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