The imagery released around To Love Is To Live casts Jehnny Beth – frontwoman of Savages and one half of John & Jehn – in stone and metal; an immovable figure treated with the reverence of a god, emperor, or master artist’s muse.
Throughout her new record Beth exudes the poise and timelessness of a statue with ease. However there are cracks, tiny hairline fractures that let her listeners know that yes, there is indeed a human behind these monstrous turns of phrase, a songwriter that thinks, feels, and hurts just like the rest of us.
On To Love Is To Live, Jehnny Beth offers us her universe with the force of a rocket breaking the throes of gravity. Embodying chaos and control in equal measure, it’s a frighteningly powerful solo debut.
The lyrics to the album are as transparent as they are in-your-face, Beth spitting prose that tackles her upbringing, identity, and sexuality head-on. I Am is the screenplay which dictates these themes as the record commences, the repeated refrain “I am burning inside” indicating the turmoil which is set to be laid out before you.
Atticus Ross’ touch as producer is a profound match with Beth here; those sinister swells, soundscapes, and synthesised screeches he’s synonymous with forming a perfect coalition with lyrics that burst with attitude and venom.
Everything on To Love Is To Live is two-sided; innocence and hedonism, guilt and self-reverence, religion and sin. As such the album feels often like a battlefield, either a storm of action or the calm before it. And at it’s epicentre, Beth.
To Love Is To Live is a public cataloguing of Beth’s personal struggles, an outpouring of her many different personality traits at once. Heroine tells us of a woman wanting to better herself for a lover, where We Will Sin Together is a far more carnal take on romance. Flower has Beth coming to turns with her feelings for a woman, complimenting vivid machinations on gender in I’m The Man and a particularly fiery line about her Catholic upbringing on Innocence:
“And there’s the guilt of course because I was raised Catholic, and they teach you it’s bad form to think man is a piece of shit.”
There’s a lot to unpack in this album, which is why its razor-sharp delivery is so utterly impressive. Features from IDLES’ Joe Talbot and The xx’s Romy Croft, plus a spoken word segment (A Place Above) from actor Cillian Murphy only elevate the record to higher places still.
To Love Is To Live speaks for life experienced with a fierce fullness; an exclamation that nothing is worth hiding and that every moment of pain or euphoria is a piece of the puzzle. Jehnny Beth conveys her message like she’s leading a sermon, throwing herself into the stories with recklessness and mastery.