Friday, May 11, 2018

Review of Belly's "Dove"

I posted this review a short while ago on the Sputnik Music website:

Review Summary: Forget the Belly of the '90s and come to this with fresh ears, and you might be in for a treat.

Tanya Donelly has had a fairly storied career so far. She and her step-sister Kristin Hersh founded Throwing Muses as teenagers back in the mid-'80s. Near the end of that decade, she and Kim Deal formed another successful New England band, The Breeders. In 1991, Donelly decided it was time to form her own band, which she christened "Belly" because she thought the word was "both pretty and ugly". Their first album, Star (1991) was certified as a gold album by the RIAA, powered largely by a pair of hit singles, "Gepetto" and "Feed the Tree" (which hit #1 on the U.S. alternative charts, and also made the Top 40 on the UK singles chart). Their second album, King (1995), was less successful, in spite of a pair of singles that scored on the U.S. alternative charts, "Super-Connected" and "Now They'll Sleep". Donelly then disbanded Belly and embarked on an up-again-down-again solo career. Now, thanks to an effective PledgeMusic campaign, Belly is back with Dove, their first LP in 23 years. 

The lineup for this album is the same one that created the King album: Donelly on guitar and lead vocals; Thomas Gorman on guitar, vocals and keyboards; his brother Chris Gorman on drums; and Gail Greenwood (who has also played with another pair of notable female-fronted rock bands, L7and Bif Naked) on bass. To be honest, though, Dove doesn't sound much to my ears like either King or Star. Donelly's voice has deepened somewhat, which is fine, because her voice was strong, but girlish, on the band's previous efforts -- she now sports the rich voice of a woman. As for the band, they're less frenetic, but more textured than they were in the '90s. The bad news is that there's no single track on here anywhere nearly as catchy as "Feed the Tree". But the good news is that this might be the most consistent and complete album that they've ever released. It's full of lush vocal harmonies and melodic tracks that will sooth a weary listener's soul. I really wasn't too sure what to expect from this band almost a quarter of a century after their heyday. For me, the album was a welcome revelation.

The best two numbers hit you right at the start of the LP. "Mine" is a deliberately-paced track which features some nice dual vocals by Donelly and Greenwood, plush chunky guitars that call to mind 'Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry", seasoned with just a dash of synthesizer vaguely reminiscent of the end of The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again". It might or might not be about a passionate couple of monsters (think Frankenstein and Bride-Of). This is followed immediately by the album's first single, "Shiny One". This is another slower song with strong vocal harmonies mixed with unhurried but sumptuous guitars, that finds Donelly and Greenwood repeatedly intoning, "Bless me, bless me my son/My shiny my shiny one".

If there's a weakness to Dove, it's that most of the numbers here are slow-to-mid-tempo songs. The only numbers that cut loose at all are "Army of Clay", which I found to be one of the least effective tracks on the album, and "Stars Align," which is more effective, but still not all that rocky. In fact, the most damning praise I've heard is that it's too "pleasant" an LP. There's not much bite to it. My suspicion, though, is it's a grower -- repeated listens will make the heart grow fonder.

My advice to listeners re/this album is twofold. First, try to forget it's the Belly of the '90s, because while the personnel is the same, their sound has definitely changed over the years. Come to them with fresh ears and pretend this is a brand new group, and see where the album takes you. And secondly, as stated earlier, I'd encourage giving Dove more than one listen. I really didn't have high expectations for this LP. In an admittedly weak year for music so far, though, I'm surprised but pleased to say that this has been one of my favorite albums of 2018.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars