IN BETWEEN THE windtunnel thrill of some headline-grabbing early live shows and making Silence Yourself, 2013’s debut album, Savages lost perspective on how best to amplify their post-punk shapes – and in the process became unlikely figures of fun.
Artful pretensions are easily mocked, especially when worn quite literally on your album sleeve with a stern essay about falling prey to the “constant distraction” of the modern world. But more problematic was an arid, pompous sonic landscape which neutered some prime weapons – Fay Milton’s drums and Gemma Thompson’s guitar – and perverse sequencing which offered the best songs at the end as if in reward for slogging through the existential wasteland. Contrary to a churlish (social) media depiction, Savages’ didn’t need to ‘loosen up’; intensity was their raison d’être. Some sweat and blood on their monochrome visage, however, might help.
Almost inevitably, Adore Life overcompensates, but in a good way. This is Savages’ love album: every song concerns the mental turmoil or the physical push and shove of l’amour fou. Accordingly, in contrast to its predecessor’s clinical separation, producer Johnny Hostile presents a band in the raw, constituent parts fighting for ear-space like angry wasps, revealing a more engaging collective personality than hitherto.
“The psychotic blues of The Gun Club is a key reference point.”
Amid opener The Answer’s foaming switchbacks, Jehnny Beth trills gleefully, “If you don’t love me/You don’t love anybody!”, before hurling herself on top of the emotional barbed wire. There are sing-alongs (“You are, you are/A sad, sad person”) and at times it gets deliciously silly, such as When In Love where Beth demands “I want your fingers down my throat” despite having already decided “I hate your taste in music.” She sounds like Piaf on poppers, like she’s enjoying herself; it suits her, and the feeling is mutual.
In this song, as elsewhere, the psychotic blues of The Gun Club is a key reference point, further indication of the nouveau grave straitjacket unlacing. Perhaps most surprising is how frequently Savages recast their instinctive melodramatic stampede over the album’s 10 tracks – Adore is a pathos-sodden lighters-out anthem worthy of Patti Smith; T.I.W.Y.G. (“This is what you get when you mess with love”) powers on Ayse Hassan’s shredding bassline – to the extent where even Beth’s smouldering oath on closer Mechanics (“When I take a man to sleep over/Pain and pleasure will touch my hand”) successfully navigates the hairline betwixt credulity and farce.
In philosophical terms, “Love is a disease/The strongest addiction I know” hardly represents stop-press news. But Savages’ passion now feels contagious, a useful quality for bolstering their cult appeal. As with others before them, they discovered it isn’t easy to intellectualise rock’s feral instincts. The answer was there all along, screaming through their veins.
Watch the video for Adore: