Album Review: Savages – Adore Life4 min read
The difference between Adore Life and Savages’ previous album Silence Yourself, is very well illustrated by their respective cover artworks. The artwork for Silence Yourself is a sepia-toned photo of the band standing before a black background, expressing both Savages’ indebtedness to vintage sounds (Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees are both major touchstones for that album) and the darkness the album demonstrated sonically, with its reverbed spaces and muffled recordings. The striking ringed fist over a stark backdrop that covers Adore Life however, shows just how dramatic an evolution the band has undergone since 2013, not only have they become more aggressive and confident, but they’ve become willing to step into the light.
Whilst the most common criticism of Silence Yourself was that it drew from a very small group of influences, the styles that make up Adore Life are vast. Just in the pre-release singles the band has covered stoner-punk (The Answer), post-rock (Adore), and something akin to thrash metal (T.I.W.Y.G.). Some tracks cover more familiar territory, such as Evil and Sad Person, but they’re recorded and played with such ferocity that they feel strikingly different from their previous work. Part of the credit must go to producer (and partner of singer Jenny Beth) Johnny Hostile, whose decision to record each band member separately has paid dividends, as the entire album sounds pristine and pummelling, from the way the bass notes fill the space on Adore, to the way the snare rolls at the climax of Evil almost sound like machine-gun fire. But nevertheless, it’s the songwriting and performances that make this album as spectacular as it is.
Since the release of Silence Yourself, Jenny Beth has mentioned how she’d opened up to genres like grindcore and death metal, and that’s evidently been a big influence on the sound of the album. From the blast-beat drums that thunder through the chorus of T.I.W.Y.G., to the washes of fuzzed out guitar that splay themselves over the slower, more tense songs, the album is much more aggressive, and simply louder than their previous work. Beth also mentioned that the band’s work on the album didn’t coalesce until after seeing Swans perform live, and their spectre does hover over the album. The layering and density of the guitars achieves a sonic cacophony that recalls To Be Kind, and it gives the songs a sense of real power and gravitas that hasn’t existed in their work before.
Whilst the instrumentation and production work on the album is phenomenal, it’s the lyricism and themes that make it a truly exceptional one. Instead of the aggressive feminist mantras and dissections of relationships that filled Silence Yourself, Adore Life is something more optimistic. The album is a celebration of love and life, and a stirring call-to-arms for people to embrace action and confidence. It’s an album that deals with very grandiose themes, and it pulls them off perfectly. Some tracks are about embracing the concept of love, warts and all (The Answer, When In Love, T.I.W.Y.G.) – “love is the answer / I’ll go insane”. Where previously their songs would have been about Beth’s doubts, these ones are about casting them off – “what is the point / to cry for life / to cry about love”. The lyrics take the sounds of the album, and spin them in an entirely different direction. Instead of using the album’s metal signifiers to express aggression, Beth uses them to champion a cause for positivity, and transcend the trappings of the metal and post-punk artists Savages draw from.
Adore, is appropriately the centrepiece of Adore Life, encapsulating the themes of the album, and then making them specific and pointed. Over a sludgy bass line and reverbed guitar plucking, Beth sings – “is it human to ask for more / is it human to adore life?”. She reflects on her own sadness in the verses – “if only I’d lived beyond regret / I wouldn’t feel guilt for what I take” – before before moving into a chorus that invokes Freddie Mercury of all people, and sings the refrain that reads like a thesis for the album – “maybe I will die, maybe tomorrow, so I need to say / I adore life”. Then, midway through the song, the band begins to build towards a climax, adding thudding, militaristic 4/4 drums, waves of distorted guitar and echo as Beth turns her refrain into a challenge – “I adore life / Do you adore life?”. When she shifts her voice up an octave to sing the climactic lines in falsetto, it’s a perfect moment of cohesion between sound and theme that speaks to the growth the band have shown since their debut.
Adore Life is just about as assured a second album as one can expect from a band that debuted so confidently. It takes their sound and themes in an exciting new direction, and there’s not a song out of place. From the tense and building first half, to the explosive release of tracks 6 through 9, the pacing is impeccable. This album shows Savages letting their sound become both more aggressive and more pristine, and using Beth’s authoritative tones for a new and refreshing purpose. Adore Life is a thrilling, powerful journey that should be heard by as many people as possible.