Those with their finger-on-the-pulse of modern indie may have known about Alexandra Savior for a while now. Having released a string of singles over the past few months, she had carved out a small but devoted following for herself, long before debut LP ‘Belladonna Of Sadness’ had even been announced. Listening to early singles like ‘Shades’ and ‘M.T.M.E.’ it’s not hard to see why; immediate and hooky, they’re well made songs slick enough to be instantly accessible but that still warrant revisiting. Impressively, the large majority of ‘Belladonna…’ lives up to – and even exceeds – the lofty first impressions of those earlier singles.
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Opener ‘Mirage’ establishes Savior’s modus operandi right from the get-go. It’s an immediately affecting track. The tight arrangement and clean, punchy production complements a smart set of lyrics which have a deceptively dark underbelly. It’s a great way to open the album and certainly an early highlight. ‘Bones’ likewise stands tall. The immediately memorable chorus takes precedence here but the verses don’t suffer for it. Admirably tight musical performances give a reliable backing for Savior’s vocals. Her obvious talent for melody is one of ‘Belladonna’s…’ strongest points, with impressive vocal melodies peppered throughout the album. This is perhaps most notable on the pre-chorus of ‘Shades’ – an sumptuous aria, of sorts, that gives the song its razor sharp hook.
The album’s production goes a long way in the album’s success. It’s a sleekly produced effort, certainly, but it works well in the context of Savior’s songs. Arctic Monkey’s Alex Turner not only produced the album but co-wrote much of it and provided various guitar and bass parts. It certainly shows; the woozy, late night atmosphere of ‘Girlie’ has more than a whiff of ‘AM’ about it; but largely it’s a collaboration that works for the best.
‘Belladonna…’ is generally best at its liveliest and when Savior takes things down a notch or two, the album does at times suffer because of it. Although the change of pace that ‘Girlie’ brings is not unwanted, it does outstay its welcome by the time follow-up track ‘Frankie’ – another slow, understated ballad – comes around. Although Savior’s voice is strong enough to carry the listener through the album’s less inspired moments, lyrically there isn’t enough to really warrant close inspection. The lyrics often tread the, by now well-worn, ground of ‘adult contemporary’; a rather grey world of dangerous relationships and forbidden desires. Although ‘Mirage’ proves Savior can write a great set of lyrics, ‘Mystery Girl’ and ‘Til You’re Mine’ don’t have the lyrical depth to live up to the mostly excellent music.
It’s an album not without its flaws, but it would be unfair to paint ‘Belladonna…’ as anything other than a great debut album. It’s a confident record that boasts great vocal delivery, excellent arrangements and plenty of style. With ‘Belladonna Of Sadness’ Alexandra Savior confirms herself as one to watch over the coming years.