Belly - Dove

by Kevin Orton Rating:8 Release Date:2018-05-04
Belly - Dove
Belly - Dove

I spent the 90’s self-consciously trying to avoid the likes of Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam. And by and large, I don’t regret my pretensions. Thanks to the 90's CD reissue boom, I was able to discover the likes of Big Star and Nick Drake. My focus was on the past and what I missed out on. Leonard Cohen and Scott Walker. The Only Ones and Roy Harper. And the more obscure the better. Fred Neil, Townes Van Zandt and Jackson C. Frank soon became my obsessions. There were of course, some notable exceptions. One can’t live in a vacuum. I certainly fell hard for Elliott Smith. Also, Vic Chesnutt and Jack Logan. Both of whom, I champion to this day.

That said, one record from the 90’s  has stuck with me like glue. And that is Belly’s debut, Star. I really can’t say why. I was never a big Throwing Muses fan and never delved into Tanya Donelly’s solo work.  Nor was I grabbed by Belly’s follow up, King. I don’t even recall how I stumbled across Star but songs like ‘Low Red Moon’, ‘Someone To Die For’ and ‘Feed The Tree’ have continued to haunt and thrill. Perhaps Belly filled the void nicely when REM crapped out and decided to become the next U2. Who can say? But for my money, Star is an Alt Rock, Dream Pop classic.

Suffice it to say, I gingerly approached Dove. Re-unions are never what they’re cracked up to be. In the case of the The Stooges, they can be downright painful.  It’s been over 20 years since Star and there’s no way Dove is going to pick up where that left off. Well, Dove is not the kind of record to try and hide the fact life has changed its members over the years. It’s just as Folksy as Star but far more mellow than King.  Yet, Donnelly’s “spark that catches fire” vocals sound unchanged and the opener, ‘Mine’ is as an alluring opener as one could hope for.  ‘Shiny One’ follows, all sugar sweet with just the right bitterness to lend it edge. For what both lack in Star’s reverb drenched effects, they make up for in being catchy, unaffected and direct.

Motherhood is a theme that crops up throughout. Though the “child” at times may be an inner one or more often than not, a troubled adult in need of nurture. Never is this more evident than on, ‘Human Child’.  “I’m not here to save you, just trying to get you outside,” Donnelly wryly admonishes. She could be talking about her kid. She could be talking about a significant other. Or herself. That’s the thing about great songs, they can mean different things at different times. In the wrong hands however, these lyrical sentiments could easily be corny and sentimental. But there’s a telling, world weary ache to Donnelly’s delivery which rescue the proceedings from any hint of mawkishness.

‘Faceless’ is equal parts earthy and dreamy. Two words which perfectly sum up this entire album. “When I paint this day, I’m gonna paint you on fire” she sings before merging into the chorus. It’s a love song to be sure, but one that deftly keeps a few choice cards up it’s sleeve.

‘Suffer The Fools’ brings it pleasantly down to the bone, with an acoustic guitar and some subtle strings and percussion. A song that on the surface is pastel bright but with a grey cloud lurking in the corner. After a few listens, the portrait of an aging friend or parent emerges. Wry and moving.The laid back anthem, ‘Girl’ is an album standout. Simply beautiful. “She brings, she brings it,” Donnelly sings celebratory and proud. Close on it’s heels, we hear a dissonant guitar harking back to the glories of Star. ‘Army of Clay’ is a darker, more driving number, providing a contrast to all that preceded it. “Wait for the other shoe to drop,” she warns. Lines like, “You wanna be wise but you’d rather be right,” hit the funny bone with a gentle tap of the doctor's reflex hammer.

‘Stars Align’ is a gentle, Poppy rocker that delivers the goods without slathering on the irony. Something that is indicative of this album’s approach. There’s no interest in rocking the boat too much. Just giving you a hint every now and then that things could possibly capsize if you stand up too fast. ‘Quicksand’ is another song that keeps things afloat, despite dipping its toe into muddier waters.

The lap steel laced ‘Artifact’ delves into Country territory and manages to be one among many pleasantries Dove has to offer. Again, Donnelly and company aren’t interested in hitting you on the head with a brick so much as building a foundation to withstand the possibility of storms ahead. ‘Heartstrings’ draws things to a close with little accompaniment other than a brightly strummed guitar. Donnelly deftly keeping things from getting too cutesy. It’s a solid farewell before the “hidden track” of ‘Starry Eyed’. Another spare number on the acoustic that makes no apology for being melodic and sweet.

If this is indeed a Belly reunion, there is no interest in trying recapture the flames of youth. Its more concerned with taking snapshots of the present and letting things develop. Dove may lack the mystery and edge of Star, but it’s certainly more than meets the eye. What may skate prettily on the surface, has a knowing wink that the ice can be mighty thin in places. Indeed a dove is on offer here. One that takes flight to baby blue skies. But it’s a birdie that knows sunny days don’t last forever.

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