Savages – Silence Yourself
Anger is a product. It can be packaged, marketed, sold and sanitised. From punk to grunge, once it broke the mainstream the major labels were only too happy to buy as much disaffection as possible. However, grunge retained a sense of irony and distance about anger, an awareness that it can be used to entertain and thrill. It’s a lot easier to be ironic about a feeling than it is to fully embrace it in all sincerity and seriousness. Savages are a serious band, made up of four women based in London and they are very, very angry.
I’ve often thought that the English are afraid of seriousness, especially in music. Making a statement free of irony is likely to get a band labelled as pretentious, but Silence Yourself contains no irony or pretence. It precisely screams its intentions. Even the front cover acts as a manifesto for the band. It dissects some of the album’s themes; namely, the dichotomy of others silencing you as an act of oppression and silencing yourself as one of empowerment. “THE WORLD USED TO BE SILENT / NOW IT HAS TOO MANY VOICES”, states the opening lines. They describe the chaos of the digital age, where voices of millions never cease. On social media, the combined strength of voices can bring power to the dispossessed in new ways, but the price paid is the loss of the individual in the labyrinth, which leads us to this:
IF THE WORLD WOULD SHUT UP
EVEN FOR A WHILE
WE WOULD START HEARING THE DISTANT RHYTHM OF AN ANGRY YOUNG TUNE – AND RECOMPOSE OURSELVES
HAVING DECONSTRUCTED EVERYTHING
WE SHOULD BE THINKING ABOUT PUTTING EVERYTHING BACK TOGETHER
The stripping back of everything to a single “angry young tune” is the essence of punk. Savages play and sing with precision about what it means to be a woman in the modern world. They take the familiar aural palette of post-punk, with its prominent rhythms and tight guitar, and make it sound totally modern and fresh.
As more women gain a voice through the Internet and in society in general, the more the opposition rises in an attempt to shut them up. “If you tell me to shut it’, sings Jehnny Beth in the opening song, “I’ll shut it now”. The anger is in the willingness to be silenced, but there is an understanding of the power that silence brings. The second verse of the song describes a “Fragile and trembling soul”, which is “held to the light”. “You kept on holding it / It was a dangerous thing to do / But you did it when no one knew”. Beth seems to affirm the bravery of retaining a fragility, when the world wants to harden you into cynicism and irony.
The anger played by Savages is the wild noise of punk sharpened to a knife edge. No sound feels accidental or misplaced, whether it’s the tight riffs of ‘Husbands’ and ‘She Will’, or the squalling noise at the end of ‘Waiting for a Sign’. Those last two songs provide the album’s centrepieces, especially ‘She Will’, whose lyrics deal with the sense of self lost in sex:
She will enter the room
She will enter the bed
She will talk like a friend
She will kiss like a man
She will forget her name
She will come back again
Get hooked on loving hard
Forcing the slut out
The narrative presents a woman forcing out the role of the “slut” whilst forgetting her own name. The song may seem to present this scene negatively, as the woman has to bring out an archetype from herself. Yet, she also “will choose to ignite / And never to extinguish”. Savages present a conflict between the power of choice and their consequences, which may be why the chorus tells the listener that “You’ve got to get used to it / Give your heart a little kick”. As the personal becomes increasingly political, all we can do is kick ourselves into making our choices firmly, “Coz she will”.
Silence Yourself is a constantly compelling record; sometimes brutal, sometimes contemplative, but never boring. I love this band for daring to make a statement and for stripping back that statement to its barest metaphor. “Can’t you see we’re losing” Beth sings in ‘Marshal Dear’. Her answer? “Silence yourself”.
– Chris Hall