This Friday, Alexz Johnson dropped her long-awaited third studio album A Stranger Time. I hardly ever review albums, but after listening to this one I was inspired to express my inner thoughts on the project and encourage you to buy or stream it to experience its perfection on your own. Like always, you need to create a good atmosphere to enjoy it the fullest! I lit three candles while it was dark outside. I put the candles on the windowsill and played the album through in one uninterrupted listen. Firstly, let me review the album track-by-track, and then I will proceed to my thoughts about the project overall.
I have to admit that there's a cacophony of instrumentation in this song, but after listening to the rest of the album I'd have to think it was done on purpose. What really stands out to me is the climax of this song: it becomes super rocky. What's also noteworthy are the little details in it like the sample of someone breathing. Alexz has posted a short video clip on Instagram of her singing this song with her guitar only, and I have to tell her that I'm gonna need a full acoustic version of 'Breathe' like yesterday. Hopefully, she will post some acoustic videos on her YouTube channel. Overall, 'Breathe' is a fantastic opener.
The first thing that came to my mind was, "I love the beat!" - it is truly eargasmic. The song is also amazing lyrically (although so are all the songs on this album). What is funny is that we went from "potatoes in a bowl" (a line from the song 'Nothin' on Me' from Alexz's EP Heart released in 2014) to "ships and postal slips, little poker chips". She is finally done with her not so well-structured food metaphors! There is also a lot of water vibes on this album. In 'Breathe' she literally sings, "Let the rain wash all this sadness out of me/Should I drown in my sorrow?/Tomorrow, underwater I will learn to breathe/I will learn to breathe"; and the intro to 'Careless' brings the association of waves rocking back and forth. I wonder if that was intentional.
This song is probably my favorite from the whole album. It just needs to become the second single! The production, the vocals, and the lyrics are everything. The reverb in the vocals is crafted perfectly. Moreover, the intro of this song is very similar to 'Swallowed' from Alexz's scrapped debut album Weight. When I listen to it, I keep wanting to sing, "Oh my darling, can we find a way out..." To me, it feels like the sequel to 'Swallowed' which brings back so many amazing memories, and which must be the reason why this song is a fan favourite. For me, these lyrics are also comparable to what I experienced after coming out - confusion, self-hatred, insecurity, and vulnerability.
4. Right Now
This song was the first single promoting A Stranger Time. At first, I was a little bit disappointed with it, as I didn't really enjoy the production and the chorus seemed a little too repetitive. However, now that I've had the opportunity to listen to the full album, I'll admit that 'Right Now' makes more sense in the context of the other tracks. At the same time, it's unlike anything else on the record with the additions of the guitar work, some of my favorite instrumentation on the album, and the cascading sounds during the dissonant chorus. That sound plus Alexz's mesmerizing voice echoing in the background signify, in my opinion, all the people trying to impose their opinions on you. Moreover, the way in which the guitar revs up at the end of the second verse and leads into the chorus though is truly remarkable! I am so hyped to see the music video to this song that Alexz has been teasing on her social media. I'm sure that with the visuals, the song will grow on me even more.
5. Never Love Me Back
As far as I can tell, this song is most people's second favorite from the album (after 'Aftermath'), and I can see why. This song is probably the only one out of the whole album I can see being played on mainstream radio, as it's really catchy. The song is chill, yet the melody indicates happiness at the beginning. However, when Alexz starts singing, the mood shifts to sadness and the song kind of clicks together. Her vocals are notably excellent here, especially at the end where she adds her characteristic shouting in the background. The lyrics are totally relatable to anyone who has ever been in love when the feeling was not reciprocated.
6. Run For Your Life
The first association that came to my mind when I heard the intro was, "Oh! Alexz is giving us those Joanne vibes!". However, when Alexz's voice burst through, I immediately changed my mind as she sounds nothing like Lady Gaga. She doesn't follow the new country trend in pop music either. Instead, this song is more like the cinematic music she was aiming for with her debut album Voodoo but done much better. It sounds like something straight out of an old western film and I am living for it. I can imagine one of these trademark western scenes where two cowboys are standing in front of each other with their guns out waiting for the other to shoot. This one is my third favorite song on the album.
7. Man Like You
On first listen, I thought that this song's production was a little too rough - it sounds more like a demo than the master. As far as I know, Alexz has done one-take vocal recordings for sever songs of hers previously, and maybe that this song has been recorded that way to give it a more raw, "demo-y" vibe than what we'd normally hear on a studio track. It's so soft and different from most of Alexz's music, but nevertheless a grower. The strongest aspect of this song is its lyrics. Alexz sings about her love for a man. Could it be about her boyfriend Matti? We can only conjecture, but 'Man Like You' has a Jack Daniels reference like the Matti dedicated 'Cologne' from her previous album Let Em Eat Cake.
8. Dangerous Mind
First of all, I need to highlight the instrumental of this song. It's so beautiful! This song is definitely something you've gotta vibe with on the low. It's not poppy like previous Alexz productions and it's not aimed at as much listening attention as her previous releases did. But it does contain great lyrics, beautiful melodies, and a new musical direction. I can't wait to see her perform it live! But who am I fooling (pun intended ) - I want to hear all of these amazing songs live! Come to Europe, Alexz!
9. Say Goodbye
This is how you conclude an album. 'Say Goodbye' evokes the end of something but also the beginning of something wonderful. I'm speechless because this song is wonderful and Alexz is definitely changing, evolving into one of the smartest and the most woke artists of our time. 'Say Goodbye' is the song I am most astonished by. Her ability to come up with a completely different type of sound than she's done before is admirable. Shira's voice blends perfectly with Alexz's too. I needed to check the credits of this song just to be sure it wasn't just Alexz using a deeper voice in the background vocals. Can we take a moment to appreciate these harmonies?
A Stranger Time is not something I'd clean my house to. It's more like an album you would listen to while driving. I have a feeling that this album was supposed to sound live off the floor and raw. As a long-time fan of hers, this album was something I had to be kind of prepared for purely because it's so different and low-key compared to her other material. We no longer hear the rocky Jude Harrison, or the screaming-her-heart-out, Let Em Eat Cake Alexz Johnson. A Stranger Time's Alexz uses her voice much wiser than she did on Voodoo or on Cake. Here, her voice sounds saccharine and precious, similiar to the way it used to in 2007, but much more mature.
This is the material we, her fans, have been waiting for since 'Weight'. I think Alexz has finally found her lane as an independent artist. She has come so far, and this is where she should be. I feel the same way I did with her music in the good (g)olden days. She has re-ignited my passion and support for her music and career with this album. Everything about it is exceptional. It's cohesive. It's lyrically mature. The melodies are perfectly crafted. I love the live feel of the production. This album has a lot of beautiful instrumental intros and outros which I have been missing in her music (we're looking at you, 'I Will Fall in Love'). The standouts for me are definitely 'Aftermath', 'Never Love Me Back', 'Run For Your Life', and 'Say Goodbye'. This is an incredible comeback following Let Em Eat Cake, and I consider this album great.
I think the biggest complaint someone can have with this album is, "It's not my style or the genre that I'm into." For me, the album's only major flaw is that it's definitely too short. I have yet to hear the Bob Dylan cover of 'Dreamin' Of You' which is a bonus track on the vinyl version of the album, but I really wish the album had a deluxe edition with at least three bonus tracks. But apart from the fact that the thirty minute long album leaves me longing for more, the record is incredibly cohesive and beautiful.
You can buy a digital copy of this album on iTunes or Google Play, a CD or vinyl at Alexz's official store and stream it on Spotify.
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