Album Review: Savages - Adore Life

Album Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra

Post-punk gods Savages have done the unthinkable with their second outing: they made their sophomore record an unabashed anthem to embracing life and love. "Love is the answer" - this is the message of Savages' first single off of Adore Life, their second LP and follow up to the highly acclaimed 2013 debut, Silence Yourself. If you think back to the post-punk heroes - Joy Division, The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Birthday Party, Cocteau Twins, Siouxsie and the Banshees - every single one made their second record darker, heavier, murkier, more weighed down by the heaviness of life and struggling through it. But not Savages. Where Silence Yourself was the social assessment in a crowded room, Adore Life turns to the horizon and makes a declaration of togetherness. It is a hurtling, exuberant effort that all but outdoes its fantastic predecessor. With Tony Visconti describing David Bowie's Blackstar as avoiding rock and roll, Savages give us the first great rock record of 2016, and it's going to be hard to beat in the coming 11 months. Adore Life is nothing else if not meant to be adored.

Savages' debut Silence Yourself was about presence. It opens with a command to attention ("Shut Up") and a following declaration of being ("I Am Here"). Eight more statements and one interlude followed, all playing with the ideas of compromise and composition that build our idea of presence in a modern world world full of noise and voices. The presence that Savages tackle is made of assumption and projection in the face of a patriarchal norm ("She Will") as much as its made up of a dog eat dog race for possession ("Husbands"). The world we are left with at the end of the record is a brutal, dystopian landscape that finds its post-punk soundtrack very well fitting and true to form. But how long really can you keep telling yourself "Don't let the fuckers get you down" before the mantra of solitary defiance starts to lose its effect?

Adore Life presents an answer to the questions that Savages left hanging at the end of Silence Yourself. Many of the songs occupy a similar statement of repetition and mantra as "Fuckers", where a single idea is tantalized and occupied over a variety of musical variations until its different colors and different shades start to bloom. It's in this that Savages relax their grip on impeccable post-punk styling and tap into Krautrock and prog and a broader rock spectrum that embodies a rainbow of color that their high contrast blacks and whites may not let on. Mantra is the name of the game on Adore Life. In this alone, the band's sophomore record is massively different than their long form essay of a debut. It feels episodic, choosing to manage every sweeping wave in the context of a larger swell. Where Adore Life drops the brutal rage and blitzkrieg of its predecessor, it gains a much needed refresh in perspective and a more mature sound overall.

There is a line on the (almost) title-track of the record, "Adore", that vividly presents the present tense of Savages in 2016. "I understand the urgency of life. In the distance there is truth which can cut like a knife. Maybe I will die maybe tomorrow, so I need to say I adore life." The hook follows two verses which both meander through the contradictions that we try to call our lives. Stuck in the middle, we rock uncomfortably between the boom and bust of passion and disconnect, never knowing with full confidence where to place ourselves - with pleasure or pain, with love or lust, with fullness or moderation. The track follows three impressionistic visions of love and self-love distorted, jagged, lurched out of full context. "The Answer" follows the likes of "She Will" and "Husbands" with a poisoned monogamy of cynical duty and inclination. "Evil" shows how our views of a divine love are often overwrought with obsessive judgment. And "Sad Person" juxtaposes egotistic nihilism with integrity. These three flavors all paint a picture of how we find ourselves in the middle - three examples of how falling too deep into love or defining it too strictly leads to a flavorless understanding.

All of these must be in place before the declaration of "Adore". It's this declaration that carries the rest of album forward into several chapters' worth of dissection and dissipation. Against an intense, ascending musical backdrop, "Adore" captures passionate, unflinching positivity. "I adore life", Jehnny Beth screams as her bandmates throw down the heaviest break of the record. She reaches a hand forward through the fourth wall. "Do you adore life?" she asks the audience. Really? Truly? Do you adore life? Confronting Savages at this majestic point of contention, you are forced to answer honestly. And if the answer is 'No', well... In that case, you're in luck - Savages give us plenty to digest in terms of why over the next six offerings.

Of course, much of our ability to adore both life and love depend heavily on our ability and desire to be intimate. And the way that both Jehnny Beth's lyrics and the furious music of Savages cook up, intimacy isn't reduced to the desire for human contact and sex - it's a full surrender of individuality for both parties. On "Surrender", Ayse Hannan scorches through a Suicide-tinged bass line (we know they are fans), while Beth screams the command over and over again. This, in turn, makes Adore Life one of the great examples of human intimacy between two parties as an allegory for the human connection and passion we can share all together. But it all starts with surrender. What inspires it? A number of things. Perhaps it's a desire for slowing down the world. Perhaps its an admittance that you need something new. On both of these middle tracks, we hear Savages comfortable in Silence Yourself territory, burning post-punk candles of drudging grooves, questioning the status quo of their love. But unlike their heroes, Savages don't leave the hunger unsatisfied. In fact, with Adore Life, they pass the post and move further onto something else entirely. Love, indeed, is the answer, and Savages aren't afraid to preach its gospel and pump it through menacing, ferocious sound territory.

Speaking of which, Adore Life goes above and beyond Silence Yourself from a musical standpoint. While you won't get the direct nods to Joy Division and The Cure that you might have gotten on the first one, here, Savages embody a sound that exists uniquely as their own, and they are definitely not afraid to show it off individually. Drummer Fay Milton gets to shine in the spotlight early on the brutal breaks of "The Answer", while Beth sees her vocal prowess glistening brilliant color on "Adore". Hannan has her "holy shit" moment on "Surrender", but it isn't until "T.I.W.Y.G." that Gemma Thompson really gets to remind us that she's one of the best guitarists we have right now. This fourth quarter brawler is perhaps the most meditative effort on the record. Here, all of the proposition of Adore Life gains flesh and blood and is thrown straight into a dance pit. Thompson's guitar solo here is among the best of Savages' catalog and it is going to be a downright miracle to see in the live setting.

Wrapping up the record, Beth gives us a wonderful final paragraph on this chapter of Savages journey. "My love will stand the test of time", she repeats, as the record fades and the band ends the flipside of the coin that started with Silence Yourself. Adore Life is a juxtaposition record on par with the best. But yet, the focal point of the ending track is not a marvelous explosion or a cliffhanger - it's a gentle reminder of longevity. Silence Yourself was a statement with a time and a place. Adore Life is a mantra with a horizon - a daily ritual to live over again and again. In this, I think that Savages will have no problem at all making Adore Life last a long, long time. This is a record that makes you question the world around you. This is what you get when you mess with love.

Adore Life is out now on Matador Records in the US. Grab it at your local record store on CD or vinyl. Savages will play this year's Sasquatch! Music Festival over Memorial Day weekend! But, if you can't swing it, they'll be in Portland on May 28. Trust us, you will want to see this record live.

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