"Adore Life" - Reviewing Savages New Album

"Adore Life" is Savages second album, which was released last Friday. 

By Enrique Mendoza

Savages is a post punk revival band that made their studio album debut back in 2013 with their well executed rejuvenation Silence Yourself released under the Matador and Pop Noire labels. The band consists of four members, Jehnny Beth, Gemma Thompson, Ayse Hassan, and Fay Milton. Women who sing, play guitar, bass, and drums, respectively. While all coming from more or less different backgrounds, all sprouting from a name between Jehnny Beth and Gemma Thompson back in 2011, according to some. 

Fast forward five years and the band is releasing its second album, Adore Life. Silence Yourself received much acclaim, and rightly so, as it was an album that stayed true to post-punk musically and stylistically, while modernizing it with aspects and foundations of other genres, fused with alternate rock and dashes of noise and drone. What I would say is a good way to recreate the fundamentals of a genre.

With a lively rhythm section being held down or sped up by the lead of Ayse and Fay, giving room for Jehnny’s vocals to climb and fall as Gemma  solos or creates distortion to add a uneasy yet intriguing atmosphere, usually to open or close a song. All together, they are a well brewed force of dynamic darkness and attitude. With an opener like “Shut Up” and attention grabbing hits like “I Am Here” and “Husbands”, the album certainly leaves a tempting door to enter. Silence Yourself was a great start to a band that certainly did leap to create something of their style, yet still retained so much room to grow and explore, it was hard not to look forward to the eventual release of the band's second record.

“The Answer” was the choice of weapon as an opening track for the sophomore album. It opens with hazy guitar and hypnotic vocals, as strong drums and bass come in to take control of the song’s rhythmic direction as Jehnny sings of misdirected love and the way a person changes. Everyone can be heard, and very clearly, remaining individual, yet a group nonetheless.

The sound most absent from the song is the guitar, not that it is invisible mind you. The guitar holds drone-esque tone throughout the song, before taking what I assumed was an eventual guitar solo. As a whole, the song takes a couple turns that are familiar yet lively for Savages, giving the guitar a handful of moments to take the spotlight, before the entire band comes back together, for a final climatic oomph . Jehnny vocalizes a final “If you don’t love me,” driving in a heartbroken nail. This was a way to start off an album that had a noticeable amount of hype shadowing over it’s head.

“Evil” kicks off with a quick drumroll to keep things moving along, retaining the fast paced feeling “The Answer” had left off with. Jehnny lays a bit off the dynamic climbs and falls off her voice, speaking with tone and precision as she let’s their lyrics stand on their own feet more than usual. The guitar dances around itself as the rhythm section keeps everything under control and steady, as the thick bass tone moves along itself and the repetitive drumming remains an unchanged variable throughout the duration of the verses.  Eventually, spicing things up during the chorus, where Jehnny pleas and pleas, “So don’t try to change, don’t try to change.”

The song exhibits the dark, shifty, Joy Division-esque post-punk sound they have revitalized. Jehnny sings and speaks as a person, whether a lover, companion, or total stranger, molding and adjusting the inner workings of another. The message of the song is simply drawn and delivered to the listener to be wary of this person that Jehnny is sitting from the perspective of as they do a classic full band volume retraction/closing slide to well, bring things to a close.

(photo via The New Yorker)

“Sad Person” has the guitar perform a sole, slow rise, as the sudden kick of drums and bass come at you from the side. The collective boom of the band is a strong one, providing good signs to a good song. This is when Jehnny comes in. Jehnny’s voice has always been one of my favorite things about Savages, as her voice is strong, clear, and dynamic, easily being the best parts of some of their discography. In “Sad Person” her voice needlessly proves itself again, demonstrating it’s power to grab attention, yet hold it’s dark alluring styling. Yet the words in the song initially come off as simple and one-tracked, with opening lines like “You are, you are, a sad, sad, person/Always been a sad, sad, person.”

While I never came to Savages because I found their lyrics up their with the likes of Waits to Malkmus or Brock, I always found them to hold a perfect balance of simplistic yet personal and leaving room to interpret. Initially I felt the lyrics were a bit half baked. But the lyrics regain themselves towards the latter half of the song, as she questions her skepticism on love and it’s effect on her, while still patting herself on the back with her strength against the “disease” and “addiction” that is love. Musically the song is a strong, quick march to one’s own resistance to love and acceptance of loneliness and sorrow, without leaving much to think or go from there.

“Adore” is a turn of pace, opening with a dreary, hanging bass line as the drums gently boom around, adding a feeling of uncertainty. The song is slow and patient, and even quiet. Jehnny sings of the human struggle and it’s worth to the world. Jehnny questions what is human and what is worth caring for, as the guitars lay a fuzzy atmosphere around the band. And with all these acknowledgements of pointlessness and shame and pain, the question that is brought up is how worthwhile is any of this? Will this sum up to anything? Is it worth living and appreciating? Does life deserve adoration? As this is asked, for a moment, the entire song stops in it’s place, and let’s the listener sit in the silence for a moment or two, wondering if it’s over, as Jehnny creeps back in, continuing her list of life’s faults and personal grim experiences, she states again “I Adore Life” more and more until she eventually asks the listener, “Do you adore life?”

This being in a sense, the title track of the album, could be a great sum of the so far album you have heard, with songs talking about manipulating and changing people, being depressed, coping with change and fate, does it some up to a well deserved “hooray!” or is it all a big nothing and waste of time. A song that you could say in existential in some senses, that makes the listener think about what they are listening to and accepting.

“Slowing Down the World” begins with a misty distortion as a buildup, as the guitar pulls out a shrill and tough riff, with the bass lively and active on the fretboard along with it’s six stringed counterpart. As always the drums provide steady and familiarity of rhythmic foundation, a well practiced formula of Savages, as Jehnny sings what i’ve found to be one of their more lyrically complex tracks on the album, as Jehnny discusses with herself her relationship with this other person, whom which she gives and gives yourself and her abilities to and their power over her. “Is it for you I search?/Is it for you I long?/Is it for you the hours are my own?/Something to be said about slowing down the world”. This gives the listener an idea of the target she is speaking of. A person who she desires deeply, who is on her mind. She paints this picture of a complex person to love. Someone who can come off and selfish and one sided, (“I offer you someone/To ship the word you like/Arm you with doctor’s eyes/Your lights will flame with fire.”) Yet still a person who is flawed and aware of it, wishing to improve on one’s self (“Bask in the light/That gave you important shadow/You were furious and petrified/Envious of the glow”). It’s a song that provides complex characters and views, and is capable of adding more layers to someone than a general depression blanket (I’m talking to you “Sad Person”).

“I Need Something New” starts with a confident Jehnny stating the title of the song, as she leaves room for a dramatic addition to the line. She desperately asks for something to spice up whatever is going on, as the rest of the band comes in to surround her with space and sound, waiting for the moment for a proper “kick”, as Jehnny keeps telling us her need for something new and what that could entail. This is another song by Savages that holds a lot of repetition, as towards the close of the song when the band has begun to play louder and louder, to the point of noise and directionless yet raw garble, as Jehnny belts again and again, “I Need Something New” again and again. A song that had much expectation to be dramatic and dynamic with her cold open and sudden impact of sound.

“When in Love” tackles again a topic not just popular with Savages but with all of humanity, love. With a scattered and distorted guitar intro as the bass slowly plucks to add appropriate tension, the song has mysterious tones to it, before the snares start the song off, with a fast paced, almost surfer rock guitar riffing, as the drums move around in a fashionable order. The instruments calm down for Jehnny’s vocals, as she discusses her struggles and experiences of love. Slowly throughout the song it becomes clearer to Jehnny, “Is this love?/This is love!” she approaches the unknown and slowly discovers and learns about the unknown in front of the band and the listener, as though she was giving a lecture as she improvised the lecture all at once. As Jehnny finally discovers what love is to her, band all comes together for, again, one final strong push to end the song and discussion.

“Surrender” opens with a eclectic high hat beat, as the guitars drone and thick distortion lays over the band, tonally being close to the style of Tony Iommi’s guitar tone in the “Iron Man” intro. A short guitar clicking or strumming against the strings lays in the background with dashes of echo and reverb to contribute to the already dark and brooding atmosphere. This provides Jehnny the opportunity to charge and vocalize, occasionally with herself as she asks the subject exactly when did they give up one your life, as she takes a tour in the mind of something who has lived their life with regrets of not doing enough, giving up on dreams and aspirations, and that time may be run out to turn on the choices made to make no choices. Bringing up how infinite the choices are for the children, and how it reflects on us, the people who are old enough to do what we want that makes us happy, yet never take the time to get out of the chair and do something. And the stronger the regrets become, the stronger the sound of the band becomes, as the volume rises, and double bass drums come in, as a fade out ensues to say goodbye to your dreams.

“T.I.W.Y.G”, which stands for This Is What You Get, is a fast song, with rushing more punk than post drumming. The bass is moving fast and forward, upbeat and unafraid to take control of how song’s tempo. The guitar picks fastly and moves swiftly around the fretboard, adding uneasiness and a sense of rush in panic as Jehnny tells you over and over again, “This is what you get when you mess with love.” Again being lyrically simple and overly repetitive, the song tells you over again the same thing, while providing very little substance or context on what you’re getting or why. The song felt half baked, leaning on it’s musical prowess that had definitely been topped by other tracks on the album, This song is all power and speed about how you messed up and are getting what you deserve, as well as Jehnny herself eventually. Then after some song has passed, they take a sudden tempo change, going from fast, simple, and rushed, to a calm, patient, thought out musical change, consisting of steady riffing and drumming on all parts, it does not last long as the song returns to it’s original form again, but now she’s saying “I mess with love”, again and again. Whether they made the lyrics limited for the song because they felt the music was either thick or thin enough to cover or camouflage itself with the tracked, the song feels just it comes off as: rushed. Which could explain the laughing at the end of the track.

“Mechanics”, the final track opening with an unsettling atmosphere, with Jehnny once again providing tender vocals. She sings of her dire need to know and understand and feel love. This songs moves slowly, with the band playing a limited and tastefully, with guitar licks that add to the need for understanding. Jehnny is the most front stage on this track than any, as she gives the album it’s last words and rites, as it is a self aware closing song. The band is visible but barely, and really feels more like a swan song if anything. It drones and aches as if it’s breathing it’s last breath, as it slowly fades out giving the listener and the band the proper amount of time to sit and accept the ending of the album, leaving the listeners on a slow fade out before a strong purposeful skip closes the song. And that is a nice way to leave, Sudden yet quietly, a quick “That’s all folks” that leaves you thinking and feeling the weight and dreariness of the themes and topics of the album.

Adore Life certainly was a response to Silence Yourself and an attempt to definitely take what their first album did and try to grow in a way that’s more somber and moody, and they certainly pulled that off on a couple tracks. Savages still retained their rhythm driven, raw, and drawing less attention on their slow, depressing stylings. Savages certainly grew in some ways,  it wouldn’t be fair to say they didn’t. While I definitely anticipated more growth and progress from the band and their sound, they still made a decent album, and that’s an accomplishment in itself. Even if there were tracks that felt rushed or uninspired. While Adore isn’t as strong as Silence was, it certainly lived up to some of the expectations set by the latter.

Overall, I give it a 8.2/10.