You might think that after being nominated for two Mercury Prizes, you would feel accomplished. But Savages’ Jehnny Beth said, f*ck that and has sculpted what could possibly be the album of the year by leaps and bounds, ‘To Love Is To Live’.
‘To Love Is To Live’ is Beth’s debut solo album, a cathartic tour de force founded upon a marriage of vulnerability and power reflecting upon her own emotional pilgrimage. “I am naked all the time” — the opening line of ‘I Am’, symbolic of fragility, is voiced in a low-pitched grumble coupled with sinister and ghoulish waves that could have been plucked straight out of the Stranger Things soundtrack. It all feels rather spooky until the track seamlessly melts into a desperate and poignant torrent of tenderness and emotion.
Again Beth uses the bent, low-pitch of ‘I Am’, mimicking the assertive, congenital dominance presented by the male species. Grappling with the notions of power and inequality, ‘Innocent’ is Beth’s middle finger to the patriarchy. Crafted of dense bass and brisk drum attacks, the track emits unapologetic confidence. This is further emphasised when the album reaches its most chaotic with the anarchic and face-melting sixth track, ‘I’m The Man’. This fan favourite is a frenzied discourse of masculinity.
And it soon becomes a common theme placing the delicate amongst the brazen. This is most prominent in ‘Flowers’, a treasured BBC Radio 6 pick. Beth’s semi-whispered vocals get swept under a thick rug of jugular bass, frantic keys and a half-shouted chorus.
As the result of self-scrutiny and discovery, the songwriter frequents Catholic imagery in her lyrics with tracks such as ‘Innocence’ and ‘We Will Sin Together’, but is referenced in some way in each track. It seems as though Jehnny Beth is breaking free with ‘To Love Is To Live’ as her own echo chamber, which is briefly shared with a cameo from Idles’ Joe Talbot.
Nearing its close, ‘The French Countryside’ takes the album onto a gentler path. Hearing Jehnny Beth actually sing almost sounds strange, but oddly comforting with the addition of a melancholy piano and mellow strings into the bargain. Creating a cyclic structure, the ultimate track ‘Human’ is dark and poetic, hearing those strings as a horror movie instead of a drama.
‘To Love Is To Live’ is a sonic poltergeist with sentiment to boot.
Words: Megan Berridge
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