Savages: Adore Life review – the looser, lighter sound of a band moving forward

Savages sound a little less icy and a little less serious on their second album – there are even a few jokes this time

It was among 2013’s most acclaimed debut albums, but, in the best possible way, Savages’ Silence Yourself didn’t feel like the work of a band who were going to be around for a long time. It offered music as pointed as the songs’ titles: Hit Me, Shut Up, Strife, I Am Here. The frantic drums, guitar squall and singer Jehnny Beth’s keening vocal sounded like something dramatically flaring into life. It was so aggressively done that it managed to sound vital despite the obviousness of its influences – well over a decade after the post-punk revival began, you wouldn’t have thought the world needed another spiky, black-clad band clearly in thrall to Siouxsie and the Banshees – but it was hard to escape the feeling that anything that blazed that intensely probably wouldn’t burn for very long.

There was also the danger the band might be crushed to death beneath the weight of their own high seriousness. You can ask people to turn off their mobile phones during a gig without first informing them that OUR GOAL IS TO FIND BETTER WAYS OF LIVING AND EXPERIENCING MUSIC, as they put it in a note posted around venues they performed in. You didn’t have to be the kind of dogged Oasis fan who thinks using words of more than one syllable is evidence of unbearable pretention to find the stern text printed on Silence Yourself’s front cover a bit much. You could see what they were driving at, but admonishing your audience for not avoiding the “constant distractions” of the modern world does make you look a little pompous, like the kind of joyless cultural theorist who spent the 70s complaining that glam rock was a collusion in consumer capitalism’s attempt to recreate a dependent adolescent class.

But Savages neither burnt themselves out nor were flattened by their own pretentions. Three years on, Adore Life arrives, audibly the work of a band making efforts to outrun their initial influences and trying to find a path beyond a debut that seemed so fully formed – image, sound and manifesto all neatly worked out – that it was hard to imagine how they might develop it further without tumbling into self-parody. The guitars are still serrated, but Adore Life feels looser and slightly more relaxed than its predecessor. The listener feels a little less like every song is being screamed at them, an inch and a half away from their face. The mood is, well, moodier. The lyrics are less ascetic, immersed as they mostly are in the vagaries of love and relationships. “Hit me, hit me with your hands,” ran Silence Yourself’s austere paean to sadomasochism. Adore Life’s closing Mechanics deals with the same subject in more elevated terms: “When I take a man to sleep over, pain and pleasure will touch my hand and I will hold what is untold.” There’s even the occasional splash of dry humour, a commodity in pretty scarce supply on Silence Yourself. Above a musical backdrop in which a jagged bassline suddenly, thrillingly, shifts into something informed by warp-speed hardcore punk, TIWYG’s lyrical hook is a parody of Radiohead’s Karma Police, a song about enervated, eye-rolling despair, its defeated “tsk-typical” mood the opposite to the galvanising one Savages clearly want to conjure. The sound of I Need Something New suggests they’re going to have to run a bit faster if they’re going to escape the shock-haired shadow of Siouxsie, but the lyric is genuinely funny, depicting the singer so bored while in the throes of sexual congress that a draught from an unclosed door feels like a diverting novelty.

When it works, Adore Life works incredibly well: there’s a slight opacity, a warmth to the sound and the words that comes as a welcome change from the icy blast of Silence Yourself. At one extreme, the fragmented guitar riffs and echoing noise of Mechanics perfectly conjure a brooding, bruised atmosphere; at the other, the disco pulse of Evil is propulsive and hard to resist. Equally, however, there are a couple of moments when Savages’ push forward from their debut doesn’t quite come off: tracks on which their edge just appears to have been dulled without anything being added to compensate; on which, with the distorting intensity dialled down, they sound somehow more like the sum of their influences than before.

Adore features an attempt to staple Savages’ noisy atmospherics to something approaching a lighters-out rock ballad – indeed, there are a few, very faint suggestions dotted about the album that Savages can see themselves taking a similar path from angularity to mass air-punch-inducement as U2. But clearly not yet. The song is by turns a bit clumsy and impressive: the chorus feels awkwardly grafted on, but the shimmering coda, speckled with vibraphone, is fantastic.

But what you get from most of Adore Life is the sense of restlessness, a band in forward motion, clearly not content to just rehash a formula. What seemed like a bracing one-off explosion now feels like something else: a group in it for the long haul, whose best work might well be ahead of them.

Contributor

Alexis Petridis

The GuardianTramp

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