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.
Tanya Donelly departed the Breeders after the Safari EP in 1992 to start her own band, Belly. Their debut Star was released in 1993, and much like Deal hit pay dirt with the phenomenally successful single Cannonball, Donelly had a hit on her hands too with Feed the Tree. Nevertheless, rather inexplicably, their follow up 1995’s King faired less well, leading her to dissolve the band later that year. After making a genuinely soaring live return in 2016, Belly now present Dove, their first new record in 23 years.
Once over the shock that such a terrifying amount of time has somehow passed since their glorious single Seal My Fate was released, it’s a comfort to find in Dove a band in fine fettle. Lead single Shiny One was the first taste of new material, and there’s no doubt that it has a distinctly ‘90s feel to it. That said, it’s also as fresh and energised as could be hoped for, as well as containing all the elements that made Belly such a captivating band in the first place. Donelly’s voice is as golden and strident as ever, Gail Greenwood’s bass is wonderfully prominent and rolling, and brothers Tom and Chris Gorman’s guitar and percussion flesh it all out with nicely pitched details.
Overall the album has a charming positivity, which is an increasingly rare find, and errs for the most part just on the right side of saccharine. Human Child urges a younger character not to shut life out, and stop focusing on objects for fear losing the past: “Your digging up bones and miss every point.” It’s all credit to Donelly that she can sing a line like “It’s a beautiful night/I’m here to drag you outside/ pull your head out of the shade” and it not ending up cloying.
Elsewhere, there are flashes of the twisted fairytale lyricism of yore on tracks like Mine, and even the domesticated tale of a girl waking up, on the aptly titled Girl, is lent a mythical slant. Quicksand is another album highlight, featuring one of the record’s most enduring melodies and finds Donelly’s vocals on moving form. The album does contain the odd muted moment, like country-tinged Artifact that sets itself in a middle of the road mood, but overall Belly have created a solid collection here.
While the irreverence of Deal’s music may endear the Breeders to a newfound younger generation, Belly’s credulity may appeal more to those that loved them the first time around. And that’s just fine; the young ‘uns have plenty of time to wear that cynicism out, while Belly’s openness is something to relish as much as revelling in the Breeders’ cheek is. Although there mightn’t be a Feed The Tree or Super Connected to be found this time round, Dove is a coherent collection that retains Belly’s essence while acknowledging the passing of nigh-on a quarter of a century.