“See the rivers of blood, the endless cruelties, the manipulations and the fears,” Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy intones on the Jehnny Beth-penned monologue ‘A Place Above’, a track at the heart of her electronic, industrial debut solo album ‘TO LOVE IS TO LIVE’. “See the delusions of those that succeed, their imagined self-importance… Everybody loses, including me and including you.”
These are words that could just have easily been written minutes ago to provide a snapshot of 2020, as protests spread against authoritarian brutality while power and privilege are questioned and we wonder if we’ll emerge from COVID-19 to a more just world. Alas, these issues are as old as society itself.
Stepping out into the limelight after two Mercury-nominated albums with post-punk band Savages, Beth arrives with a bold declaration of who she is and what she wants, as well as a question mark over why we do the things that we do.
“I am naked all the time / I am burning inside / I’m the voice no one can hear,” are the first words she utters on cinematic opener ‘I Am’, singing of repressed desires before vowing “but I have decided to be true”. She unburdens further on ‘Flower’, a trip-hop ode to a dancer she fell for at Hollywood’s infamous burlesque landmark Jumbo’s Clown Room: “She loves me and I love her / I’m not sure how to please her / I’m not sure how to reach her”. Over the delicate synths of ‘We’ll Sin Together’, Beth finds peace in the inevitability that “To love is to live / To live is to sin”.
It’s a record driven by power and vulnerability in equal measure – often at the same time. Take the moment where heroism meets humility on the gothic ‘Heroine’, which features The xx’s Romy Croft. Over the clanking electro sounds of ‘Innocence’, Beth addresses the “Catholic guilt” that “teaches you it’s bad form to think man is a piece of shit”, before squaring up to the world on the industrial powerhouse that is ‘I’m The Man’: “There’s no bitch in town who doesn’t understand how hard my dick can be”.
Beth explores the nuanced shades of love, lust, failure, fear and rage – a cacophony of emotion matched by the album’s effortless journey through sonic extremes. She’s known for her punk past, but this album offers a fuller picture of the artist: it’s there in the gentle but sullen piano-led tenderness of ‘The Rooms’; the childhood reflections on the orchestral ‘The French Countryside’; the ambient ‘Human’; and the machine-gun beats and howling noise-rock of ‘How You Could’ (the latter featuring IDLES frontman Joe Talbot’s inimitable bark).
Nothing is out of bounds on ‘TO LOVE IS TO LIVE’, a timelessly raw and real ride through this thing called life.
Release date: June 12
Record label: Caroline