ATTENTION: This is a public service announcement regarding the ongoing epidemic plaguing the world. Post-Punk Revivalist Syndrome, or PPRS, is something we as humans must take seriously and analyze to stop. The symptoms we must look for include recording a great studio debut with a less intense follow-up record. If you or a loved one knows of any potential victims of PPRS, call the World Health Organization immediately.
As the 21st century continues onward, an increasingly odd trend has appeared amongst many rock acts. The pattern follows accordingly: A debut record that is both reminiscent of post-punk acts of the 70’s and 80’s and yet stylishly fresh when it breaks out in popularity. However, once their second album is released, something occurs that cause the follow-up to be less impressive. Whether it’s due to a familiarity with the tricks they pulled in earlier releases or a lack of ideas, the acts fail to create something of equal or greater caliber. Whether it be The Strokes, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the Arctic Monkeys, it seems like the impact is bigger than the fallout. And while there are exceptions, it’s still a trend a lot of bands can’t seem to escape. And unfortunately for Savages, it seems like they cannot be the outliers they so desperately tried to be on Adore Life.
Acting as a follow-up to 2013’s Silence Yourself, Adore Life is the second mantra-heavy album that Savages have released. Silence Yourself pushed the boundary between connecting with others and what it means to assert yourself in the modern communication age, and Savages refused to be restrained. The all-caps manifesto refused to allow any experience to be extinguished. Now, Adore Life aims to usurp even more conventions, mainly how we view love. The concept of power and the dominance-subjective relationship is noticeably simpler, if not more audacious. Taking the idea of love and twisting it to be an emotion of power rather than weakness drives the album forward and is tangled within the walls of these ten ferocious songs.
Unfortunately, ferocity seems to be one of the handful sentiments Savages could produce for this record. Each song is a powerful statement that is aided by Gemma Thompson’s grainy and chugging guitars melodically sewn into the unapproachable drums from Fay Milton. Each component is locked into place by the malleable bass of Ayse Hassan. While stylistically similar, and borderline stale compared to Silence Yourself, Adore Life is still upheld by masterful playing. Each piece focused and driven, they provide the perfect platform for Jenny Beth’s vocal performance, something equally commanding on vinyl as it is when she’s onstage, up close and personal. Beth’s singing is something feminine without being pinned by constraints of sounding too girly or too masculine. There is authentic power within that approaches Gira levels of strength and delivery. The quartet never allows for sloppiness or weaknesses to be shone in the production either, with a sheen of fuzz applied to every song that never obfuscates the compact beauty in each song, while never entering levels of distorted chaos. Songs like “Surrender” and “When in Love” act as set pieces to boast impeccable playing. Interlocked and punishing, the sinewy ten songs here all act as a laser focused gaze that Savages have taken three years to perfect. And technically, they are perfect and willing to show that off here.
But it seems like over those three years, they lost the magic that had encapsulated so many on Silence Yourself. The deep guttural nature of each song was comparable to staring into a void, something adventurous and unexplored, commandeered for Savages to show off. Now, however, the straightforward nature of the songs is painfully safe, and is only worsened by the lyrical content. In an attempt to make love a source of power and an entity of something to be both feared and admired, there is an awkward feeling of self-indulgence tied to each song. Tracks like “T.I.W.Y.G.” come off entirely too serious and indulgent to realize that the hook “This is what you get when you mess with love” sounds like something from young-adult novels’ fan-fiction. Painting those with more conservative beliefs as evil in the second track and opening the record with a recount of a potential friends-with-benefits scenario ending poorly both have the same solutions according to Jenny Beth: unfaltering love. “Adore”, however, acts as the centerpiece of the record. Poignant and refreshingly optimistic, there seems to be painstaking care into actually turning the themes of this record into actual beauty. Combined with a vocal performance that soars into something ethereal after starting somewhere bare, it’s a marvel to witness that Savages can transform into something occupying both positive and negative thoughts.
On the official site of Savages, you can find the list of manifestos they’ve attached with their releases. In it, they write the goal is to avoid cliché. They also say that the answer involves their bass, drums, guitars, and vocals. While never nuanced, Savages have always tried to approach things in the most creative way possible. With this tunnel vision, it appears they have regressed to a more primal state than where they were at with Silence Yourself. But they still hold priority high when it comes to producing clean and fierce playing. There is loads of inspiration and ideas that Savages seem to hold dear; however, that does not hold them exempt from being afflicted with a banal record that will forever be compared to Antics, Room on Fire, and You Could Have It So Much Better. The reverberations from their debut will overshadow the one-dimensional studio sequel, following a painful tendency amongst these bands. But what’s possibly worse is that Savages have crafted a record that lacked the kineticism and ideals of one of the decade’s smartest and strongest releases.
– T. Pennington