Savages are a great band live. They play with a remarkable intensity- something I can testify to having experienced it myself. The music of their first album Silence Yourself, a punchy, frenetic array of tracks that refuse to let up, translate extremely well. In their gigs leading up to the release of their second album Adore Life they began to slip in little glimpses of what we could look forward to. Played live, these new compositions seemed to offer something a little lighter, a little more nuanced, though still not too far departed from that debut post-punk outfit so often compared to Siouxsie and the Banshees. I must admit, I was looking forward to the new album.
Savages have always tended to be a little severe. It provides an intensity that makes their live music so enthralling, but can feel more than a little pretentious. So it’s certainly a refreshing change that, for this second album, they have played around a little more. Lead singer Jehnny Beth moves from the sadomasochism of “Hit Me” in their first album, to more emotional fields and even, at points, humour. In the song “I Need Something New”, in a nigh-on possessed, atonal voice above glittering guitar work and their typical driving bass, Beth sings of an episode of boredom she feels during sex, and the welcome diversion of a breeze through an open doorway which somehow reinvigorates the entire affair.
Despite this slight change in direction from their previous work, Savages still offer much the same. The opening track, “The Answer”, provides a harmonious yet chaotic beginning to the album- a waltzing whirlwind of heavily distorted guitars plugging away and occasionally wailing into the fore, whilst Jehnny Beths vocals spin around and around at a high pitched whine almost wholly disjointed from the other instruments. And that works. It grabs your attention, just as powerfully as the debut album did. Yet as the album progresses, I found my attention waning just a little.
The entire album feels a little aimless, as though the quartet is unsure of what direction to take
The title track, “Adore”, gets the job done whilst simultaneously falling a little flat. The bass line is catchy enough though the guitars fiddle around a little irreverently, Beth’s vocals are far more intimate than any of those written for the previous album, it crescendos to a fairly impressive and certainly satisfying climax. Indeed, in some ways, the final coda makes up for the song- everything echoes and swings in and out of focus whilst the drums shift gradually to the front line until they become a menacing wall of sound before a sharp cut-off. Yet the chorus and verse seem to grate together, like a patch up job- it’ll do. And the fine work of the final minute feels a little undone when “Slowing Down the World” follows on. The does exactly as it says on the tin- dreary and fairly baseless. The energy painstakingly conjured up by “Adore” is lost.
The album bows out with a slight return to form, firstly with the penultimate song “T.I.W.Y.G.”, a decent stock sound Savages have become known for, and then with “Mechanics”, a little more explorative, contemplative, indulgent- more echoing, squealing feedback… it edges towards a terrain I have no real interest ever to delve into, a cross between torch song and music so steeped in stylistic atmosphere it loses whatever sound it attempted to begin with.
Adore Life is a frustrating album. Savages seem to have acknowledged the need to progress and develop their style, they cannot now rely on music so fully explored already by the likes of Joy Division and Siouxsie and the Banshees… and yet this album seems neither far enough from that original sound, nor heading in a direction close enough with their roots. The entire album feels a little aimless, as though the quartet is unsure of what direction to take – as such, it as though their sound is in some kind of stasis. If they release a third album, I hope it will have come to them.