Jehnny Beth: To Love Is To Live review – Exploring the borderline
To Love Is To Live
Since Savages went on hiatus in 2017, Camille Berthomier has been exploring what her long-adopted moniker Jehnny Beth really means, expanding into acting, radio, and writing. She cites David Bowie’s passing as a reminder that it is the work we leave behind, with this work about “self-reclamation, borderline sexuality and . . . what it is that makes us human”.
That concept of the borderline is key to Beth’s identity, and this record tends towards asking questions, rather than answering.
There are hard-edged sonic choices; the android vocal effects on I Am, the stark percussion and speak-singing of Innocence, the relentless drums on I’m the Man, the sinister basslines on Heroine, and the furious thumping on How Could You.
It is through the more subtle work that a purer vision emerges: Flower with its sensual electronic pulse and whispering vocal is arrestingly met by Cillian Murphy’s (one of a few collaborators) mesmerising recitation of Beth’s poem A Place Above. The piano-led pieces are very considered, allowing her elegant vocal to breathe – particularly The Rooms with its jazz-inflections and wistful saxophone, and The French Countryside, with its light, yet melancholy strings.
Closing song Human is the unidentical twin to opener I Am, circling back to the borderline, with the snarling softening amid a wash of strings and birdsong. “I’m sorry for my mistakes,” Beth sings before exhaling, ready for the next act.