The Savages experienced a surge to immediate music scene notoriety, the sort that can easily sink a band as happy surprise takes a smack of backlash and open-minded expectation curdles into defiant preemptive dismissal. The band officially formed in 2011, had their first significant gig (opening for British Sea Power) within three months, and released their debut album to rave reviews in May of 2013, a turnaround from inception to prime placement on record store racks of under two years. That debut release, Silence Yourself, was strong, albeit not as sharply memorable as the most laudatory praise implied. It was what it should have been: an intriguing opening salvo from a band still finding their voice, doing so with fiery aplomb. There was no reason to expect it to be anything more.
The follow-up, Adore Life, has arrived, and it is similarly square in the middle of the proper lane. It is more expansive, moving forward with questing purpose. The band doesn’t sound fully settled into their sound, though still in a positive way, characterized more by daring than uncertainty. With its thunderous insistence, album opener “The Answer” approaches Sleater-Kinney territory without quite having the dynamic variety to get there entirely. Thats a reasonable introduction to what follows. The album is rife with tracks that come across as the Savages embracing and ruminating on the tightrope tones of their predecessors, working to determine how they can tickle and tug the past into their own future. For example, something about the curving flow of “Slowing Down the World” reminds me of Siouxsie and the Banshees, albeit with the trademark goth seduction replaced by a dose of the grimly weary punk Patti Smith was creating around the time of Wave. I concede there’s a lot to unpack in that particular description, but I swear that’s exactly what it sounds like.
Across the album, tracks are built in smart, enticing ways. “Evil” melds its tricky lyrics about pushing back against oppression (“So don’t try to change, don’t try to change/ Although we hurt you and we break you”) and “I Need Something New” is a swarm of sound. I also like the way “Adore,” the sort of title cut, is always on the precipice of transforming into a post-punk power ballad, a sonic invention I’d never previously realized I wanted or needed. The Savages charge through the record with a notable unity, even though it would be so easy to let Jehnny Beth’s powerhouse vocals take the lead, with the rollicking, roaring “When in Love” standing as the clearest evidence of that route’s allure. Instead, they lock in together, making music that sounds cohesively egalitarian. There are minor missteps, such as “T.I.W.Y.G.,” which is as much of a placeholder as its title implies (although it’s also a cousin of those bland grinds Alabama Shakes delivers to nothing but adoration, so what do I know?), but even they stand as testaments to the band’s tenacity to create music that is exploratory and yet entrenched in purpose.
Adore Life offers no guarantee that the Savages will endure and go on to ever greater albums. It doesn’t even offer promise or hope along those lines. The band remain just unmoored enough that the fast fade skeptics predict could still be their destiny. What Adore Life does argue, at least implicitly, is that there are going to be some worthwhile sounds to be heard, no matter the route.
(image found elsewhere)