British post-punk revivalists Savages released their debut album, 2003’s Silence Yourself, in May 2013 to considerable acclaim. Buzz had been swirling around the band since their first single released the prior year, “Flying to Berlin”/ “Husbands”, and the enormous promise evident in the single was realized on their Mercury Prize nominated full-length debut. Savages sound can best be described as spiky post-punk with plenty of aggression with manic and intense vocal performances by Jehnny Beth. She often seems to blend early Siouxsie Sioux with a heavy dose of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O thrown in for good measure. The band’s second album Adore Life doesn’t quite have the same penetrating intensity of Silence Yourself, but it does show a clear development of increasingly complex song ideas with more expansive arrangements.
At 10 songs and barely 40 minutes, Adore Life is a tight and compact collection that doesn’t stray crazy far from the formula of their debut, yet still goes beyond it. The jittery rock and roll kick of the debut remains. “The Answer” opens the album with all the enigmatic potency of something from Wire’s 154. The band is tight as always, with drummer Faye Milton rocking her kit with barely controlled ferocity.
“Evil” is an atmospheric rocker with a pounding bass line and foreboding guitar. It’s one of the album’s strongest tunes, with terrific harmonies on the chorus. “Sad Person” is driven by a savage rhythm section. Ayse Hassan is simply fierce on the bass. Jehnny Beth has the ability to wring every bit of drama out of a song when needed, but can also play aloof and pure badass. She frequently veers between the two.
“Adore” is the Savages’ version of a power-ballad. It’s a dark, bluesy rocker, teeming with an insecurity we’re not used to hearing from Jehnny Beth. Her vocal is fantastic, especially in the brief dip of ‘60s-style rock that they almost drift back to before stopping suddenly. The stark passage starting at the 3:12 to point, in which Beth intones “I adore life” repeatedly over a throbbing bass and guitar effects before building to a searing crescendo, is one of the album’s most pivotal moments.
Gemma Thompson’s wiry guitar duels with an elastic bass on “Slowing Down the World”, a sinister bass-heavy nod in PJ Harvey’s direction. At one point Jehnny Beth lets rip a ghostly scream, a brief moment of release in a song drowning in palpable tension.
“I Need Something New” is an edgy post-punk gem that rocks about as hard as anything else on the album. The track builds to a brutally loud ending in which the band goes locomotive for a while to see how many nerve endings they can fray (quite a few, as it turns out). “When in Love” seems such a prosaic title for a Savages’ song, but no worries — they didn’t bring in Diane Warren to write pop hit. “When in Love” might be about the confused feelings between two individuals that may (or may not?) be love, but that doesn’t mean it’s missing Savages’ defiant edge. Jehnny Beth again impressives with her range of vocals, and the expressiveness of her voice. She’s very Siouxsie Sioux on this one. Once again, drummer Faye Milton is spectacular (as she is throughout the entire album).
“Surrender” is a much different vibe, with an off-kilter synthesizer suddenly to the fore of the action. It’s like the moment post-punk starts to slowly creep into new wave territory. Jehnny Beth’s vocal is all strident attitude, and again folks are going to be drawn to Siouxsie Sioux comparisons. But that’s not a bad thing. The musical accompaniment here is dynamic and deftly woven — “Surrender” is the best hard-edge new wave song to come along in quite some time. “T.I.W.Y.G.” i.e. “This Is What You Get”, is built on a merciless machine gun rhythm and a wildly flailing bass, with Jehnny Beth ranting above it all. With caustic guitar riffs by Gemma Thompson, “T.I.W.Y.G” is somewhere in Sonic Youth territory with a dash of Pixies dust. The long, eerie “Mechanics” is the final track. It is slow and atmospheric, spooky and ominous. Again, as is so often with Savages, the song could easily have been beamed from about 1981 or 1982 — there’s a bit of Magazine or Bauhaus in this one. The band captures that period with incredible precision and obvious reverence.
Adore Life is a step up in maturity and songcraft, yet still delivers plenty of jagged ferocity. There aren’t any highs on par with the best moments of Silence Yourself, but it is nonetheless consistently strong, and may be more of a grower. Adore Life feels like a transitional album, with perhaps even more expansive song development to come. Maybe when Savages have five or six albums to their credit, we’ll be able to see clearly where Adore Life was headed and how it fits. For now, we can just enjoy the ride from a killer band operating at an extremely high level.