TO LOVE IS TO LIVE, the solo debut from Jehnny Beth, is, rather surprisingly, a very disappointing album. Considering the artist’s history–from her success with former band Savages to her soundtrack creation for the film XY Chelsea–it seems Jehnny would be poised to form a solid debut. Even her past touring with bands such as the critically acclaimed LCD Soundsystem would suggest Jehnny’s first solo could be a musical high-point in 2020. However, this is certainly not the case. This album is plagued by cringe-worthy lyrics, often embarrassing vocals, and a contrived flare of unearned drama.
From the very beginning, the LP seems to have the unwarranted belief that it is operating at the peak of raw emotion. “I Am” begins with a spoken word passage in which a heavily filtered voice melodramatically says “I am the ocean, I am the moon.” Though the passage’s words are not entirely cringe-worthy, their apparent lack of depth in meaning, coupled with a body of play-it-safe instrumentals pretending to be mysterious, make the track almost juvenile. When piano and Jehnny’s singing take over, the song begins to meander through bland lyrics replete with unnecessary reverb. Frustratingly, the intense strings and distorted guitars which at this point join the track could, potentially, be engaging. But the intro, lyrics, and boring structure distract from this potential.
The opener isn’t, unfortunately, the only weak entry. “We Will Sin Together,” which is perhaps trying to be sexy but comes across as annoying and lazy, is content to spend almost the entirety of its runtime simply repeating the track’s own title. The production and instrumentals do the song no favors with a buzzing layer of synth and back-up vocals which clash horribly with Jehnny’s sing-speaking. It sounds like something off of Corey Feldman’s Angelic 2 the Core, which is certainly no compliment.
TO LOVE IS TO LIVE generally sounds both amateur and histrionic as it apparently attempts to be edgy. “I’m The Man” is a truly awful entry in which Jehnny is again content to mostly just repeat the song’s title. It sounds more like sterile stock music than anything else. The track has some hints of nu-metal, a potentially interesting musical direction for Jehnny considering her punkish roots in Savages, but it goes absolutely nowhere. It’s grating in its disregard for structure and lyricism and not worth sitting through.
The stock music feeling present throughout this album is actually quite understandable when looking into its history. Jehnny made “I’m The Man” for the BBC series Peaky Blinders in 2019; so its drama and edge were formed to sell a TV show and not born of genuine rebellion nor confidence. Jehnny has also explained how partner and producer Johnny Hostile projected films such as Dunkirk onto the walls of their studio as they worked–a technique aimed at infusing their music with drama and story. While this, along with Jehnny’s experience in soundtrack creation, could have lent a cinematic air to the album, it instead seems to have formed an LP ready to serve as the soundtrack of a particularly low-quality Lifetime movie.
Beyond the melodrama and poor construction of this album’s lyrics and tone, TO LOVE IS TO LIVE struggles with poor production and a bizarrely scattered flow. “How Could You,” a semi-successful attempt at artistic abrasiveness, is followed by “The French Countryside,” a completely out-of-place piano tune. Although the songs are among the album’s more enjoyable (alongside “Flower), they still struggle to impress, particularly in the context of the entire project. By the time the closing track, “Human,” drags past the five-minute mark, there is a palpable desire for the album to hurry up and end. TO LOVE IS TO LIVE is, truly, a mess.