Stripping love to the core

London-based post-punk revivalists Savages dole out commands as album titles.

Their 2013's Mercury Prize-nominated debut is called Silence Yourself and comes with a 36-line manifesto written by its leader, Jehnny Beth, anchored on the opening statement: "The world used to be silent/Now it has too many voices."

They named their follow-up Adore Life, but the imperative is constantly being questioned.

"Is it human to ask for more?/Is it human to adore life?" asks Beth, in the video for the lead single, Adore, looking straight at the camera like a colder, more unrepentant Sinead O'Connor circa Nothing Compares 2 U.

"I understand the urgency of life," she declares, a direct riposte to a line in the Morrissey song, Angel, Angel, Down We Go Together which goes: "They do not understand the urgency of life."

It is a torch song with killer stilettos and a smack to your face. You are left reeling, in pain and in love, wondering what just happened.




    Yeow Kai Chai

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Such is the metier of the band: The salvo of instructions isn't as black-and-white as it seems. They keep pounding, but the aim is to strip you to the core, vulnerable and naked.

Adore Life takes on the biggest pop cliche, Love, but doesn't so much embrace as wrestle with it, jab at it, poke at it as if it's an alien object. They understand the grammar of amour, only to flip it. Savages claw so you can feel afresh and not take things for granted.

Live, they are exhilarating, drilling and grilling, revelling in contradictions as a barrage of passive-aggressive missives. "If you don't love me/You don't love anybody," Beth spits out in The Answer, against the ferocious axework of guitarist Gemma Thompson and bassist Ayse Hassan.

"Love is the answer," is the declarative refrain throughout, undermined by the no-holds-barred delivery that means anything but. It's an anti-Whitney, anti-Mariah anti-ballad.

In styling and sound, Beth channels the urgent, jerky energy of two obvious antecedents: Joy Division's Ian Curtis and P.J. Harvey. They aren't tethered to any particular trend or time. They are essential. They are trying to unravel an existential crisis.

In the short, sharp and shocked T.I.W.Y.G., Beth actualises the crazy mind-freak experience. She unpacks the titular acronym by repeating the line: "This is what you get when you mess with love."

The chainsaw riffs and spitfire drumming spar with her harried, half-spoken delivery.

"All you want is that feeling again/When someone is camping in your head," is her confession. Love haunts and never rests easy. It is violent, upsetting and, most of all, vital.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2016, with the headline 'Stripping love to the core'. Print Edition | Subscribe