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Belly - DOVE Music Album Reviews

Belly - DOVE Music Album Reviews
On their first album in over 20 years, Tanya Donelly and her band conjure the same potent mix of grace and force that fueled their 1990s output.

Like Stevie Nicks, Tanya Donelly has devoted decades of craft to describing what it feels like to be on the edge of 17. The difference between the two songwriters is that Donelly stays safe on terra firma. She’s passionate but grounded—an adult filtering the ardor of youth through art. As a singer and guitarist in Throwing Muses (and later the Breeders), she crafted feminine archetypes whose complicated internal lives felt inseparable from the band’s woven guitar threads, along with snarling rockers like “Not Too Soon.” In her debut as a bandleader, on Belly’s 1993 album Star, Donnelly became a master of lurching rhythms and vertiginous swoops. Her timbre coaxed the feral out of the winsome. “I’d like to see you naked, I’d like to see you take it,” she roared on the title track of 1995’s King.

The excellent Dove, Belly’s first album since the Clinton administration, picks up where their ‘90s output left off, yielding not a millimeter to notions of propriety. Donelly and her bandmates were adults in the ‘90s, too, not the delicate flowers many of the contemporaneous reviews suggested, and Dove’s 11 tunes reintroduce an act whose division of labor was always a model of gender parity: Donelly was flanked by male co-guitarist Tom Gorman, his brother Chris on drums, and Gail Greenwood on bass. In Donelly’s songs, men and women reckoned with each other, bemused by their cycles of interdependency: “And when you breathe/You breathe for two,” she sang on 1995’s “Seal My Fate.”

Now she returns to those familiar tropes, perhaps reinvigorated by how well Belly’s catalog has held up since they returned to gigging in 2016. Dove’s punchy ruefulness benefits from sparkling production by Tom Gorman and Paul Q. Kolderie, with whom Donelly has been working since her time in Throwing Muses. “I see the truth break over your face like a bad egg,” she declares on “Army of Clay,” buoyed by bass and drums; when Tom does a pitch-bend on his guitar, it’s just like old times.

Donelly’s fusion of grace and force is Dove’s most compelling achievement. “Artifact” mines the same country-rock vein as Star’s title track, conjuring a sound that’s heavy and comforting at once. “Faceless” opens with an acoustic fake-out before shifting into a rocker. On “Stars Align,” Donelly proclaims, “You’re gonna give someone a heart attack,” and then the song becomes a pretty love anthem whose clichés only confirm Belly’s impressive self-confidence. What’s adulthood for if you can’t do a Corona-fueled dance to the bar band and not give a damn?

Look in vain, though, for another “Feed the Tree,” the spring ’93 modern rock hit that was propelled to radio playlists by the Nirvana Phenomenon. To their considerable credit, Belly show no interest in recapturing the cultural moment that made Star a gold record. Hell, that cultural moment was gone in 1995, after Rolling Stone put her band on the cover and the marvelous King stiffed anyway. Belly never stopped recording awesome songs—audiences just stopped caring. Here’s hoping Dove gets them listening again.


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