With only a few exceptions, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to describe Alexandra Savior’s debut album as being relatively calm. The distorted, old-fashioned Western guitar tones are set at a relatively slow pace throughout the record’s 11 songs. From the slow burning “Girlie” to the John Barry-esque “Vanishing Point,” Savior is remarkably consistent, settling into a measured, yet unhurried groove.
But something lurks just below the surface. Don’t let her silky smooth voice fool you, there’s an anger brewing in Savior that gradually oozes out throughout each track. She’s furious over a failed relationship – you can hear it in the scream at the end of “M.T.M.E.,” in her blasé attitude throughout “Mirage,” and even in how she delivers the “He spends his days with What’s-Her-Face” line in “Audeline.”
So regardless of the actual sound of Belladonna of Sadness, there’s a ferocity in Alexandra Savior’s music that finally comes out in the closing two minutes of “Mystery Girl,” the record’s cathartic finale. As guitar feedback and distortion rises to a fever pitch, Savior repeats her refrain, “don’t you try to calm me down,” a line she screams live, until the music fades out and record ends.
And it’s precisely her refusal to stay calm – even while the desert rock surrounding her voice is exactly that – that makes the record so arresting. As a result, it makes quite a lot of sense that each song was co-written by Arctic Monkeys leader Alex Turner, who also utilized a similar dichotomy between music and lyrics on his band’s 2009 album Humbug. The two LPs share the same producer, James Ford, and a similar sound – tracks like “My Propeller” and “Fire and the Thud” would sound relatively at home here if sung by Savior. The end product is something similar to if Lana Del Rey killed a bottle of tequila with Josh Homme at Rancho De La Luna Studios in Joshua Tree.
Whether she knows it or not, Savior’s got star power. Her effortlessly cool and mysterious demeanor shines throughout Belladonna of Sadness, recalling the heyday of French songstress Françoise Hardy. Every word she sings feels as though she’s chain smoking in a ‘50s movie, complete with a leather jacket, Ray-Bans and a motorcycle. Lines like “I sing songs about whatever the fuck they want” from “Mirage” seem so natural and smooth, as if she’s not even trying. Every little detail compliments the image Turner has been cultivating over the past half decade to the nth-degree; it’s no wonder that they make such a great songwriting team, having previously collaborated on his 2016 Last Shadow Puppets standout, “Miracle Aligner.”
Full of slide guitars, driving percussion and that voice, Alexandra Savior’s debut arrives as a fully-realized and confident force of nature, the kind of sound that could become her personal trademark if she keeps with it long enough. Her boiled up fury and velvety voice pair together to make something special, resulting in the album that Del Rey would kill to make. “Mystery Girl’s” finale leaves quite the lasting impression – when she pleads, “don’t you try to calm me down. Let’s hope no one ever does.