Friday, June 12th, 2020
To Love Is to Live
Jun 12, 2020
By Andy Von Pip
Multi-talented French artist Jehnny Beth came to wider prominence as the intense and confrontational lead singer and co-writer of acclaimed cult UK post-punk band Savages. Her debut solo album To Love Is to Live certainly shares the passionate intensity and fire that made Savages such a thrilling proposition. Whereas Savages ostensibly projected a steely uncompromising image, Beth’s solo album is a subtler affair and explores her strength, sensuality, vulnerability, and the “complexity of being human.”
The decision to record a solo album was partly inspired by David Bowie’s death, with his final release Blackstar prompting the feeling that “you only pass this way once.” Instead of planning to write a solo album at some indistinct point in the future, she realized that she had to make it happen and begin the process. To Love Is to Live was recorded in Los Angeles, London, and Paris and features collaborations with producers Flood, Atticus Ross, and long-time co-creator and partner Johnny Hostile. It also features guest appearances from The xx’s Romy Madley Croft, actor Cillian Murphy, and IDLES’ Joe Talbot.
The album opens with “I Am,” beginning with a distorted spoken word passage before morphing into an impassioned confessional torch song. “Innocence” resides somewhere between PJ Harvey and Siouxsie Sioux whilst “Flower” is laced with an atmosphere of prowling sensuality and is a paean to a pole dancer at a notorious strip club in Los Angeles.
If at times Beth casts herself as a provocateur it’s not simply to agitate for its own sake but to challenge the normative idea of social conformity. It’s also a means to acquire knowledge and perhaps to draw out some universal truths. And of course making connections with her audience. It’s this open-minded approach to art and a desire to learn and to challenge that informs the eclectic nature of the album. “We Will Sin Together” is a dark slice of shimmering pop-noir. “A Place Above” features Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy reading a monologue which segues into previous single “I’m the Man”—a track which was perhaps the most obvious choice as lead single acting as a musical bridge between Savages and Beth’s solo work.
Elsewhere there’s the cacophonous “How Could You”—drenched in static dissonance, electronic pulses, jittering beats, and features a suitably fervent guest vocal from IDLES’ Joe Talbot (he and Beth apparently bonded over their appreciation of English contemporary artist Grayson Perry). The contrast between the track that follows—the beautiful piano-led reflective lament “French Countryside”—couldn’t be more marked, and when Beth sings “If I ever see the French countryside again” it has an added poignancy given the current restrictions due to COVID -19. Beth shows that her voice is just as suited to a looser, almost jazzy style on “The Rooms,” as it is to strident empowering post-punk.
It would be churlish to suggest that Savages lacked subtly or employed noise as a blunt instrument, but her solo work reveals Beth to be an artist who can convey a range of emotions in a far more nuanced way. To Love Is to Live is an album of depth and subtlety that is poetic, passionate, eclectic, and cohesive. (www.jehnnybeth.com)
Author rating: 8/10
Rate this album
Average reader rating: 9/10
No ratings have been recorded yet.