Savages’ first LP, Silence Yourself, quickly established them as one of the best rock bands in the world. They synthesised the best of art-rock and post-punk into a singular hard-hitting noise — somehow cold, yet fiery, brittle, yet packing punch. It engaged faithfully with its inspirations found in bands like Joy Division and Siouxsie & The Banshees, whilst sounding completely modern. Frontwoman Jehnny Beth is terrifyingly intense, commanding the listener’s attention and submission like a dictator. In my opinion, she is the best female punk singer since Patti Smith.
Naturally, I was convinced that Adore Life, their follow up to that nearly perfect debut, would be one of the best albums of 2016. However, while all the ingredients of another fantastic record are here — the clambering, howling guitars, the driving, muscular drumming, and, of course, Jehnny’s commanding, angry vocals — the songwriting and the grooves, for the most part lack the urgency and confrontational power of its predecessor.
Not to say Adore Life is bad. No song is terrible - far from it - but somehow the flatness of the album, or the safe rut it quickly falls into, is made all the more prevalent by inescapably comparing it to the sharpness and brilliance of its predecessor. Take the song Slowing Down The World: all the sounds and tropes of a Savages song are there, but it seems all far too lumbering, and quickly dashed out. It’d make a fine B-side, but is it really album worthy? I’ve listened to the album over five times, yet I can’t remember this track at all until I hear it again. The track When In Love similarly lacks the snotty gut punch you crave from Savages. The guitar and the drums are technically proficient, but just don’t seem to fit together. The effect, rather than sounding abrasive and energetic, is that it’s just a little jarring, even awkward. And, while I’m all for a droney, noisy, guitar feedback-led track with ghostly vocals, the closing track Mechanics is far too unchanging to justify its five-minute length.
That being said, there are moments of sheer brilliance. And Savages seem to know which ones they are, with all the truly fantastic cuts being released as promos. The Answer takes the brittle sound of danger, characteristic of the best Savages tracks, to its extreme. The loud distorted guitar and the panic attack drums lock and tumble together, ploughing along like a juggernaut. They sound like they’re on the perpetual brink of falling out of time, but never quite getting there; clinging on, metaphorically, by the skin of their teeth.
Adore, one of Savages slowest tracks, also manages to be one of their best. Despite being predominantly quiet and brooding, they still manage to sound as urgent and sincere as ever. On the verses Jehnny invokes the croon of Nick Cave, in the chorus she anthemically echoes Freddie Mercury, all whilst remaining truly Jehnny Beth. It plods along at a lumbering pace, but to build the tension, to inflate the song to its breaking point which it reaches in its cacophonous closing minute.
While this album certainly does not achieve the sucker punch power I know Savages are capable of, it doesn’t detract from their importance and overarching brilliance in the rock world.