Of I’m The Man – Jehnny Beth’s collaboration with Peaky Blinders director Anthony Byrne – she revealed, “Its aim is to make you feel, not think,” and this intention holds true for the entirety of her stunning debut solo album. The story goes that on 10 January, 2016, the Savages lead singer/co-writer woke up suddenly in the middle of the night and discovered that Bowie had died. After rousing her long-time life/creative partner Johnny Hostile, the pair listened to Blackstar on repeat until dawn, and Bowie’s powerful final statement reminded Beth of the enduring nature of albums.
While the pair created her showpiece To Love Is To Live, Hostile projected scenes from movies – including 2017’s Dunkirk – onto the studio walls. Cinematic flourishes – footsteps, traffic sounds, a clock ticking – enliven this record, which is bookended by spoken word (delivered by a man): “I am naked all the time/ I am burning inside/ I am a voice no one can hear…”
To introduce I’m The Man, Cillian Murphy recites one of Beth’s own poems, A Place Above: “See the most powerful man raise his hand to tell us a lie/ No, no, not another lie…” This caterwauling track then asserts electronic dominance until gentle piano enters like a sympathetic hand placed on a shoulder that’s then unceremoniously swiped away: “I’M THE MAN!” This phrase, whispered by assorted male voices, infiltrates the stark track that follows somewhat like unwelcome voices inside your head.
Themes of love, lust, sex, morality and guilt (“…of course, ‘cause I was raised a Catholic”) are ever present. Dynamic contrast – even within individual songs – pounces and startles. The French Countryside is a wistful shard of sunlight: a moment of quiet reflection within the torturous psychological struggle.
Much like Bowie, Beth is a multifaceted artist, sonic warrior and innovator. To Love Is To Live is a confessional, abrasive and heroic masterpiece.
To Love Is To Live by Jehnny Beth is out June 12 via Caroline.
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