There’s those of us that have always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with Savages. Some would claim a hate/hate relationship but, after every new twist and turn of “The Savs” very short corkscrew to the top of the heap, these people always seem to come out of the woodwork with very deeply researched opinions and comments. I include myself in this category by the way.
So who are we, these sad sufferers of Savages syndrome? Savages are a raging musical success that just… appeared – seemingly with no back story or justification. Everyone (or at least, everyone that cares about such things) is loosely aware that they’re from “East London” (or near as damn it) but that’s where the buck stops. This is fair enough, there’d be no need to mention John and Jehn but for the fact that Johnny Hostile is still a very active member of the behind the scenes crew. There’s nothing to be gained from mentioning Partly Faithful either and no one in the world remembers Hindly(?) anyway.
So why get all riled up? Band’s get famous all the time. There’s a new sensation every week. Terry Pratchett puts it beautifully in one of his recent essays on social justice disguised as a fantasy novel: Crab Bucket Syndrome. Those of us that remember the cynical, well timed, well planned launch of Savages into the big bad world are all instinctively feeling Crab Bucket Syndrome. Every time a crab in a bucket of crabs makes a break for the rim of the bucket, all the other crabs grab onto its legs and try and pull it back down.
Apart from irrational jealously and spite, there’s also the very legitimate gripe that so many bands from the same time and place could (and should) have been just as big, but they just weren’t good looking/fashionable/self serving/well managed enough to do so. But its hardly Savages’ fault that they, unlike every other rock band ever, managed to stack the odds in their favour.
So, for a few paragraphs, I’m going to put away the incredulity, the jealousy and the self-righteous punditry and just talk about their latest single: Fuckers.
This is a 12″ single on which both the A and B side clock in at over 8 minutes and were both recorded live at the same concert. A show of audacity from a band that, having gained their success (deserved or undeserved), are now willing to really flex their muscles. The once obsolete 7″ single format has, over the last decade, been well and truly revived as the industry standard statement of intent. It was the cheapest and easiest way of distinguishing yourself from the seething mass of unrefined musical ooze that quickly and completely coated the surface of the shining new seas of the digital music revolution. But now that every single 2-bit indie band has realised that they need to put out a 7″ to be listened to by anyone other than their mothers, how can the musical elite pull rank over the lower divisions?
The resurrection of the stupidly extended 12″ single now seems inevitable. It’s not cost effective, its not convenient to listen to and the elongated arrangements they inevitably feature are always down right self indulgent (remember Bela Lugosi’s Dead, Temple Of Love… Blue Monday!?). Savages have gone and done it anyway and, what’s more, they’ve done it with live recordings. They did something of this nature with the I Am Here EP, but this latest effort feels slicker and better executed. Again, credit to them, it shows they’re willing to refine and perfect a concept rather than just throwing gimmicks out into the world to see what hits home.
So what about the actual songs? They’re actually pretty good too. I still find Jehnny Beth’s phrasing slightly annoying and smug. When she sings “Don’t let the fuckers bring you down” it doesn’t make me want to fight the power, it makes me want to go be a fucker and bring someone down, which I suspect is not the effect they were trying to create. None the less, the song justifies it’s 10 minute lifespan – building in intensity throughout. The ultra controlled rhythm section cleverly holds the song back, constantly reigning in the more raucous vocals and lead guitars. This creates a constant tension throughout the song, like stretching fabric to the point where you can feel it’s just about to rip, but isn’t. Even though they retain their post-punk by numbers sound pallet, this built in tension feels more like listening to Funhouse era Stooges than any new wave pop. If anything, it almost has an edge of the shamanistic, trance-like throb of latter era Fields Of The Nephilim (think Psychonaut or Summerland).
Dream Baby Dream is a clever choice of B side. Although they’ve always been cool, I get the feeling that Suicide are about to be “rediscovered” by London’s ever shifting, ever hungry music scene. In much the same way that The Jesus And Mary Chain’s first record suddenly became the most essential go-to reference point for all music ever, despite basically being a bunch of unlistenable noise, I think Suicide’s early albums are due to be placed on a higher pedestal any time now. There was absolutely no need to introduce the track as “this is a song written by Alan Vega and Martin Rev from the band… Suicide” though. They aren’t from the band Suicide, they are the band Suicide, you’ve name checked every member. It’s the Savages smugness resurfacing again. None the less, it’s a very neat translation of an electronic anthem into a slightly more conventional rock and roll format that remains interesting throughout.
Sadly, this cover just isn’t as unrepentant and awesome as Bruce Springsteen’s version of the song released 6 months earlier – presumably as a lament for the recently deceased Marty Thau. I’d like to think that Savages chose the track with a similar reverence in mind but, as before, I can’t help feeling that more cynicism and less and heart and soul has gone into the decision making process. Is this hero worship, or is it clever marketing? Despite this being an outstanding single that was well worth the purchase, I’m once again left with another dose of Savages Syndrome.
On that note, I leave you with this: