Savages intention for Adore Life was to write the “loudest album ever”, a lofty ambition, especially when you share a world with Swans, a band that Savages singer Jehnny Beth has mentioned many times as being hugely influential on the sound of their new LP. Swans’ influence is strong throughout the album, from the grinding guitars of opening track ‘The Answer’ to the growling violence of ‘Adore’. It’s a sound that’s clearly made for live performance, with the singalong vocals of ‘Sad Person’, and the manic energy of ‘Surrender’ coming close to bringing us the thrashing chaos of the pit. Adore Life succeeds on many fronts: as an evolution of Savages trademark sound, and as a darker, threating album, full of violent force and energy. But it’s less transcendent, less surprising than debut Silence Yourself, and while the tracks are very good, they’re never quite as good as the singles on their last LP, barring the possible exception of ‘Slowing Down The World’ — which is narrative and powerful in a way that Savages have never been before. It’s unclear as to whether that’s a problem with the album, my subjective expectations, or if there’s simply more that’s going on here that the recordings don’t allow the listener to grasp. In any case, it seems to be a watershed release, and the way that Savages go from here, in their albums and their live performances, will vastly change the way that it’s interpreted. Taken on its own merits alone, though, it’s a very dense experience. It’s hard to process in a lot of ways, as there’s both a lot, and very little going on here that we haven’t heard somewhere else before.
The album runs the gamut from the fairly traditional Savages sound of ‘Evil’, through to the distant, vast expanse of ‘I Need Something New’. It’s new terrain for the band, and, despite the miserable, down-tempo plod of most of it, you can tell they’re feeling really good about the things they’re doing here. But by the second-last track ‘T.W.Y.G’ you start to feel a little weary of their structure. Every song here builds and swells a little bit like later Swans, but never manages to reach its full potential. It feels like it’s caught between potential futures. On one hand, the clattering simplicity of early Savages, on the other, the looming majesty of later Swans. It’s the sound of progress and transition, but it doesn’t feel like it’s been completely settled yet. This is a startling experience. To go from an album as self-contained and tonally complete as 2013’s Silence Yourself to the melancholy diffusion of 2015’sAdore Life feels like a precarious decision. But there’s a seed of hope in the anxiety. There’s a chance of a renewal here untouched in either this album, or the previous LP; a chance they could be greater than the sum of all their parts. If we’re looking at raw ambition and the sense of possibility, this is probably an improvement on their debut. While Silence Yourself had an amazing sound, it was difficult to imagine where the band could go from there. More polished, pop-hook heavy post-punk would have seemed like they were playing to their reputation. The Swans angle is welcome and unexpected, but the mix is underwhelming here.
If nothing else, the album proves that Savages are unwilling to rest upon their past successes. It tells us that they’re building towards something. They’re throwing old ideas out and adding new influences in, in a regimented dedication to improving their sound. The trouble is, the project isn’t finished yet. At this point it could really take them anywhere — on to greater heights and higher authenticity, or banality through the replication of the sounds of more inspired artists. Honestly, it’s more confusing than the band has ever been before. It’s not a great album, but it’s definitely an exciting one.
Adore Life is out now through Matador/Remote Control.