Alexandra Savior’s debut album is a dark and gloomy trip through the grip of love. The guiding hand of Arctic Monkey’s frontman Alex Turner makes the sound of Belladonna of Sadness familiar, with echoes of the band’s 2013 album AM haunting much of Saviour’s debut. While the lack of originality found in the album may have proved a fatal flaw for a more established artist, it can be forgiven in the work of a newcomer finding her feet. Belladonna of Sadness may be a little predictable, but it’s a strong and promising album that fills the void left by Lana Del Rey’s departure from Ultraviolence.
Mirage, the album’s opening track, effectively sets the mood. Savior leads us through her adoption of a persona for her musical career, describing in a languid voice her depressed, artistically restrained alter-ego Anna-Marie Mirage in the musical equivalent of a roll of the eyes.
The album visits various recognisable characters through its twelve tracks: the song Frankie is home to a stoic cowboy who can’t be pinned down, while the album’s conclusion Mystery Girl speculates about the other woman. Savior’s voice creates an apathetic, emotionally distant mood to the track that builds into a choked and atmospheric outro.
“There is a moody assertiveness in her voice that places her firmly as the star of her story.”
A highlight of these character driven songs is Girlie, which details the unhealthy habits of one of Hollywood’s rising stars. Personal melodrama, drugs, and a sex-sells attitude are brushed aside in Savior’s sardonic dirge. The minimalistic musical accompaniment shows off her melancholic voice, with the higher notes of the chorus stopping the melody from becoming boring.
A dreamy hook lightens the cynical and unsympathetic song; while the motifs and themes of Savior’s songs are well known, her disdain for what others have portrayed as glamorous sets her apart.
This is particularly notable in Audeline, which seems to be named not for the dominating love interest of the song, but for the woman who warned against him. The chorus highlights the importance of friendship in the face of unhealthy relationships; Savior doesn’t allow herself to become the placidly abandoned muse of flawed men.
There is a moody assertiveness in her voice that places her firmly as the star of her story. Although the song M.T.M.E tries to emphasise this through the use of speech and a scream towards the end of the track, it feels unnecessary and over-produced, only detracting from the immersive quality of Savior’s voice.
“Packed with eerie synth, moody guitars, and carried by the dark, appealing voice of Savior, the album successfully sets the tone and sticks to it.”
However, in trying to capture this dim Polaroid of relationships gone awry, there are times where the album could risk becoming relentlessly monotonous. ‘Til You’re Mine stands out with a livelier percussion introduction that becomes the backbone of the track. The song goes on to rise into a hopeful, if misguided, ending that stands out amidst the low toned fatalism of much of the album.
The succeeding song, Vanishing Point, also intrigues with a bluesy guitar riff that leads into a richly textured chorus. A Bonnie and Clyde-esque romantic fantasy, the song track indulges in the intensity of a threatened love that adds some relief to Belladonna of Sadness without compromising its overall mood.
Bones is perhaps the closest on the album to a commercial pop song and obviously linked to the Arctic Monkey’s work. The song wanders through the intense attraction, verging on obsession, of a new romance. Although the lingering, low voice of Savior adds a pulling appeal to the track, there is an emptiness in the monotony of the song – Savior is right when she says it “goes on.” Devoid of the catch of a hook and only a brief bridge to relieve Bones, the track becomes a little tedious and fails to fully deliver.
Belladonna of Sadness is a strong album from the twenty-two-year-old Savior. Packed with eerie synth, moody guitars, and carried by the dark, appealing voice of Savior, the album successfully sets the tone and sticks to it. Having created a strict mood, it will be interesting to see how she develops from her debut and where the future will lead her.
Image courtesy of Alexandra Savior Facebook page.