Sound — 8
Stevie Nick's debut, and most successful solo effort apart from Fleetwood Mac was released in 1981, selling over 4 million copies and spawning four substantial hit singles. "Bella Donna" would feature various artists, a trend Nicks would continue with her subsequent releases. Yet "Bella Donna" is still very much a Nicks' album as nine of the ten songs are her own compositions. A wider range of her writing skills is seen on this debut compared to her work with Fleetwood Mac. For example, the iconic "Edge of Seventeen" is a rock staple, with a driving electric bass line highly influenced by The Police's work. "After the Glitter Fades" carries a country tinge to it, yet "Leather and Lace" is pure Nicks. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers would contribute the album's greatest chart topper, "Stop Dragging My Heart Around" which combines both rock and folk in its catchy refrain. Also noted is the inclusion of Nicks' backing vocalists, Lori Perry and Sharon Celani who continue to work with her to the present day. The album's four singles sadly prove to be the album's strength, with only a few other songs touching deep. (The four singles being "Edge of Seventeen", "After the Glitter Fades", "Stop Draggin' My Heart Around" and "Leather and Lace") It is only the title track and "The Highwayman" that prove to withstand time. Songs such as "Outside the Rain" and "How Still My Love" just seem rehashes of her Fleetwood mac hit, "Dreams". Yet, overall, there being ten tracks, the album is still a stunning work of art even if "Edge of Seventeen" was not included. Numerous sessions were involved when creating "Bella Donna". Nicks would write her songs accompanied by a solo piano or electric piano. She would then have it arranged or added upon by various musicians. Multiple songs were shelved and not released until many years after the release of the album. While Nicks may not be as involved in the details of her work as Tori Amos or Kate Bush, the songs are still very much heres, as seen in her lyrical work.
Lyrics — 7
Nicks' writing style relies heavily on symbolism, which holds true on her debut album and her work with Fleetwood Mac. "Edge of Seventeen" begins with the iconic line "Just like the white winged dove" and "The Highwayman" begins with "Alas he was the highwayman". While some view this as artistic, it often makes her songs confusing and hard to follow. In "Leather and Lace", a hit duet with Don Henley, Nicks tries to represent the man as "leather", and the woman as "lace", showing that she is more delicate than he. This ends up working to the song's advantage because it is more clear than the previous two. "After the Glitter Fades" is a great lyrical work because of its clarity to the listener. It is clearly a more personal song for Nicks as she sings about how love stays on even after the glitter from fame fades away. Yet "Kind of Woman", the album's second song fails to really grab a listener after following the title track. The song "Bella Donna", while not as strong musically as the four singles, proves to be the album's lyrical highlight. Nicks sings about being her own person and not being worn down or won over by a man. The influence of drugs had not started taking over Nicks' voice or delivery at this point in time, and the album truly catches the singer/songwriter at her peak. "Edge of Seventeen" is delivered so powerfully that it hardly matters what the lyrics are. (But the lyrics are still powerful, as is the story associated with it.) Her voice still has the raspy roughness of her early years, yet she sings with defining clarity so that lyrics can be understood quite well.
Overall Impression — 8
"Bella Donna" is a massive achievement for Nicks both commercially and critically. Achieving Platinum status, it almost guarantees Nicks immortality, especially due to "Edge of Seventeen" which has truly withstood the test of time compared to the album's other singles. Nicks would help pave the way for female artists looking for a solo career in rock with the boys. While not a perfect album, it still features Nicks at her vocally best. Highly recommended.