First featured at www.13thfloor.co.nz
It’s been 23 years since Tanya Donelly and crew walked away from their highly successful indie pop venture, Belly. Finally, they’ve found the guts to return, bringing with them a sweet but mature version of their younger selves that’s way more than just simply palatable. It’s like they never left.
But don’t call it a comeback. Belly, now consisting of their line up from the King album days (Donelly, Thomas Gorman, Chris Gorman and Gail Greenwood) have been touring for the last two years, building to conversations about returning to the studio. So, after a series of shared writing sessions and emailed demos, the band found time to lay down the tracks for Dove, with one of the Gorman brothers recording and producing alongside Paul Q. Kolderie (Hole, Radiohead). And with the help of some crowd sourcing, the band is back on wax.
Dove brings back the trademark dreamy, eccentricities of their debut, Star (1993) – with an added level of maturity. It’s nicely layered with plenty of 1990’s vibes, not too dissimilar to what you get on their classic single Feed the Tree – the best example of Belly’s signature sound.
The songs on Dove employ Donelly’s penchant for ethereal poetry and coupled subtle hooks that are embedded into the tunes. This is dream pop to dance at the club or flip out and willingly give away your concentration.
The album opens with the lines “Creature of Mine, we lie beside each other in the shallow of the bed…” Donelly breaths on the waspish bass-led pop Mine. It’s a love song of sorts. An acknowledgement of a well-worn and familiar relationship. The kind people have when they are hitting their 50’s.
On the first single Shiny One, Donelly trills her her way through a swirling groove. I loved the slacker swagger of the introduction to Faceless which lurches like a drunk old man into an explosive rage of fuzz-guitar. That certainly is an import from the King days but it’s short lived. With Girl we get some live strings and there’s a bit of twangy, acoustic slide guitar on Artifact. According to the song, regret is “a smudge on the lens, an artifact on the heart.” I love that line!
Donelly’s constant references to ephemera and history persists on Heartstrings which begins with a simple acoustic solo. On the quieter tracks, you get hints of the cynical, whimsical folky music made by Donelly in her solo days. We have ‘slights’ on the band’s past sins: “We’ve done the therapy, we’ve taken the cure”. Then there’s that sweet, raspy alto voice that you could occasionally mistake for her stepsister, Kristen Hersh.
Somewhere in all of this, you understand that Dove is not a revival. The music is clearly more mature, even if it’s presented in a mostly traditional pop package. No surprise that Donelly has ditched her ‘love planet soup’ approach to song writing and is now more focused on more immediate issues like family, friends and ‘adult’ relationships. That’s clearest in Suffer the Fools and Quicksand, which are the gentlest breakup songs devoid of the usual anger and bile. They are more an uncoupling than a derailing.
All in all, this is grown-up pop music, about issues and feelings that matter to us older-types, without the need to completely shed all that was great about 90’s jangle-pop. This is a strong album and, pardon the pun, dove-tales nicely with their earlier efforts.