Jehnny Beth is best known as the frontwoman of Savages: the always monochromatic, post-punk four-piece whose dissonant debut album was nominated for the Mercury prize back in 2013. Beth herself grew up in the French countryside – her real name is Camille Berthomier – but moved to London in her 20s to pursue music. With Savages, who released their last record in 2016, she was electrifying – though she recently told the Guardian that the band eventually became a “prison for creativity”. The more successful they became, the more she felt caged. Now, with her debut solo album To Love Is to Live, she makes herself defiantly uncategorisable.
To Love... opens with a cavernous, cinematic intro, announcing “I am naked all the time,” first in a pitch-shifted growl, and later, in Beth’s own fragile, naked vocal. She sets the stage for a restless album that thrives on contrast: from delicate piano ballads to thrashing metal. The record arrives simultaneously with a collection of erotic short stories – Crimes Against Love Manifesto (C.A.L.M.) – and can be equally sensual, as with Flower, a hushed ballad dedicated to an LA pole dancer, and We Will Sin Together, where lyrics about legs parting are couched in hazy, undulating synths. But Beth hasn’t lost the aggression of her Savages persona, either: there’s the glitchy fury of How Could You (featuring Joe Talbot of Idles) and the brittle, Peaky Blinders-soundtracking I’m the Man (incidentally, Cillian Murphy also reads Beth’s poetry on a different track). Beth’s ability to glide between vulnerability and intimidation is unnerving, and adds more shades of grey to a performer who’s previously operated in black and white.