Former Alphastates singer Cat Dowling would seem to be a woman scorned on her debut album, The Believer. And while Hell hath no fury greater than this apparently, it is an album that would lead you to believe otherwise, providing little in the way of musical stimulation. Dowling strikes a moral pose on ‘Somebody Else’, declaring that “righteousness is everything in this bloody mess“, this sort of downtrodden angst an unfortunate symptom of tracks such as ‘Somebody Else’, ‘Cruel’ and ‘Invisible’. While vulnerability and sympathy are intended they never quite hit home and to a degree this seriously hampers The Believer.
There are lyrical flourishes to be found, however. The title track has a high-noon swagger (helped by a strutting blend of guitars and pianos) that comes to the fore as Dowling sings “I’ve been bad, brazen and bold / And dragged my past in from the cold”. It’s an image that sets the singer up as battler, but one that is repeatedly undermined over the album’s 34 minutes. ‘Gospel Song’ is a sickly yet sinister consolation, Dowling turning tragic raconteur as strings are picked and backing singers harmonise beneath, before the track expands into widescreen – those strings beginning to ache and the echoes of a guitar becoming chimes. The track reverts to its foreboding beginnings but subtly grows to become a great, churning spectre of dread.
‘Come On’ may be the album’s real highlight though. The Believer‘s third track is from the same template as much of the album (metronomic piano line, milquetoast vocal, those ever mournful strings) but works thanks to a sense of desperation and an addictive, rewinding guitar riff. There’s fire and a will here that’s unfortunately missing elsewhere and sadly ‘Invisible’ undoes the good work with the melodramatic cry of “I long to be left alone / I want to be crucified” ringing in the ears.
Abandoning Alphastates’ electronic tinge in favour of a heavier musical backdrop, The Believer sees marching piano with accented violins and guitars that are allowed to roam as they please but takes a radio-friendly form for the most part. There is some variance to be found – ‘The Well Runs Dry’ evolves from spacious, Hans Zimmer-like beginnings – but songs tend to blend into one another with alarming ease and, while it often hints at a dark underbelly, this falls short too often.