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.
“Tear up the contracts we drew/Our hands gave up too much too soon,” Tanya Donelly laments on “Starryeyed,” the closing track of Dove, Belly's first album in 23 years. The singer's rueful words sound like they could have once been directed at her bandmates, with whom she split after only two albums in the mid-1990s. At the time, the breakup seemed like a hasty move prompted by the failure of their sophomore effort, 1995's King, a collection of infectious, impeccably crafted alt-pop songs that was at direct odds with post-Nirvana rock.
Unsurprisingly, then, Belly 's sudden reunion led to songwriting across locales and studio time in a number of New England studios, finally yielding Dove, their first album since what many view as their sophomore slump, 1995's King, and what practically everyone took to be their swan song. Weighed down by the idiosyncrasies of Star's at once appealing yet enigmatic folk-inflected indie rock, King's bright, hook-laden pop tunes never received its fair shake, and those who didn't readily dismiss it were genuinely - and rightly - bummed that King looked to be the last anyone would ever see of the band. What of the expectation of Dove, then? Two-plus decades is a mountain of time to pass between albums and its two predecessors were heavily steeped in the culture and stylings of their time.
It's been so long since onetime 120 Minutes mainstays Belly put out an album, that a rapper with the same moniker now dominates Google searches for the word "Belly." That lack of activity has relegated a band that put out a Gold album (1994's Star), scored a video hit with "Feed the Tree" and was nominated for two Grammys to something of a footnote, albeit a wistfully remembered one. (For peak nostalgia, check out their contributions to the Mallrats and With Honors soundtracks, or their cover of "Are You Experienced?" from the 1993 Jimi Hendrix covers LP Stone Free). But on Dove, Belly's first full-length since 1995's King, that distance works to their advantage.
It feels like a strange, yet happy, coincidence that two of the great bands of the '90s rock explosion should both make their return in 2018. Stranger still that the original line-up of one of those bands once included the front-women of both. Earlier this year Kim Deal led the Breeders back into the public realm with an absolute ripper of a record 10 years after their last studio album, and 25 years after their defining record Last Splash landed – with that record's original line-up, no less.