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Jehnny Beth ‘To Love is to Live’ review: worthwhile art pop

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Jehnny Beth’s solo work has divided fans of her UK band Savages. Led by Beth (real name Camille Berthomier), Savages helped carry the fading torch of UK rock with their sophisticated post-punk: all angular guitars and rumbling bass lines coupled with Beth’s dark lyrics and memorable vocal delivery.

Three singles from her debut solo album To Love is to Live have already been released, giving the public a fair idea of what they can expect from the album. It is more accessible than Beth’s work with Savages but it is a long way from disposable pop.

The Savages’ last album Adore Life was released soon after the death of David Bowie in January 2016, an event that set Beth on the path that led to the release of To Love is to Live. She told NME:

“That night I was in L.A., I opened my phone at 3am, saw that [Bowie] was dead and couldn’t sleep so I listened to his music all night. I was obviously really sad, but also very conscious of the fact that death is part of life. One day I’m gonna be gone, so in my core I felt that there was something that I hadn’t done yet – and that was this record.

“It took me a while to come to that, but the night that Bowie died was certainly the start of the path to this record.”

Beth has put together a more than worthwhile art-pop album in To Love is to Live, an album that, despite its many contributors, is all Beth in tone.

Beth described the album in the same interview with NME as musically “a mixture of light and darkness and hard and soft” and lyrically about “self-reclamation, borderline sexuality and dealing with what it is that makes us human”.

The first single off To Love is to Lie, I’m the Man,was featured in the crime TV drama Peaky Blinders. I’m the Man was produced by Atticus Ross from Nine Inch Nails and it shows. It’s a glitchy electro-industrial piss take of toxic masculinity. The quiet piano interlude three-quarters of the way through makes it special.

Second single Flower is the least satisfying of the three singles but nevertheless there is a lot going on within it. Recent single Heroine is excellent. Heroine is all 21st century jazzy funk until the chorus, where Beth wails “I want to be a heroine” in that unmistakeable voice of hers. The production provided by Flood on this tune and throughout the album is first class. The album includes collaborations with her life partner Johnny Hostile, who produced both Savages albums, Cillian Murphy, Joe Talbot (IDLES) among others.

Opening track I Am builds and builds but you are left wanting more. Second track Innocence is better but it’s restrained, like Beth is trying to be all things to all people. It’s worth noting there is a great clip on YouTube of Bowie giving his advice to artists which is “don’t play to the gallery.”

We Will Sin Together is sweet and raunchy like Beth at her best, when you throw in personal trauma, melancholy and pinch of rage. The Rooms and French Countryside are piano-driven tunes that nicely show off Beth’s softer side.

How Could You is the only song on the album that approaches a rock track and it’s fantastic. The anxious electronics and vocals of the verses give way to a furious chorus with pummelling beats. Closing track Human is the standout. It’s an epic that swirls with any number of sounds: first soft, then hard. It feels like the whole album builds to this.

Beth has put together a more than worthwhile art-pop album in To Love is to Live, an album that, despite its many contributors, is all Beth in tone. The themes fans lap up on Savages albums are on full display here.  On that note, let us hope that Savages record again as while this is a good album, rock needs help.

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