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Belly

Fed up with playing second fiddle (or indeed, back-up singer-songwriter) to step-sister Kristin Hersh in the mercurial indie faves, THROWING MUSES, as well as helping instigate Kim Deal’s PIXIES splinter, The BREEDERS, Tanya Donelly expanded her musical horizons under the auspices of 4 a.d. outfit, BELLY. Although the dream-pop quartet’s tenure was all-too brief (’91 to ’96), a couple of hit albums paved the way for others to follow in their wake.
Founded in Boston, Massachusetts (although all members were raised in Newport, Rhode Island), lead singer/guitarist Tanya Donelly roped in former ‘Muse, Fred Abong (bass) and two brothers, Tom (guitar) and Chris Gorman (drums), who’d been the crux of hardcore punk act, Verbal Assault. Identifying with the name BELLY as “both pretty and ugly”, Tanya’s new pet project was in motion via the 4 a.d.-endorsed indie chart-topper, `Slow Dust’, in summer ’92. Famous for producing PIXIES classics, maestro Gil Norton was only to happy to flower BELLY’s hypnotic blend of provocative musings and strident, infectious indie-rock on the said EP; `Dusted’, `Slow Dog’ and the grungy `Low Red Moon’, all indie-pop faves.
Coming across like LUSH’s Miki Berenji fronting BLAKE BABIES, a second EP, `Gepetto’ – featuring a cover of The FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS’ classic `Hot Burrito #2’ – was equally effective, at least in Britain. Dinky and demure but at times dynamic, lead EP track `Feed The Tree’ (referring to a southern expression to lay flowers at a graveside), rose to the dizzying heights of the Top 40 (Top 100 in America), laying the foundations for their debut album, STAR (1993) {*8}. Narrowly missing the coveted UK No.1 spot, Donelly’s little-girl-lost sweetness occasionally transformed into a fearsome howl on the set’s other fizzy-pop ditties, `Sad Dress’ and the countrified closer, `Stay’. Similarly, her lyrics were, by turns, twisted and twee, the delicate balance undoubtedly part of the band’s appeal on the aforementioned EP-to-LP tracks.
Having already covered a version of “Jungle Book” classic, `Trust In Me’ (as a B-side), there were no qualms about giving their dreamy-pop treatment to the TOM JONES hit, `It’s Not Unusual’ and JIMI HENDRIX’s `Are You Experienced?’, both duly delivered on American-only EP release, `Moon’, which also highlighted “Star” track, `Full Moon, Empty Heart’.
Despite this incredible start, and now with Gail Greenwood filling Abong’s berth, the Glyn Johns-produced, KING (1995) {*6}, took off in a rockier direction, losing some of the BELLY mystique in the process. Though the record reached the UK Top 10, its relative critical and commercial failure Stateside (where it stalled at No.57), eventually led to TANYA DONELLY splitting the group and heading for a solo career. Bowing out with a couple of EPs led by spawned album tracks, `Now They’ll Sleep’ and `Seal My Fate’ (the latter concluding with a version of NILSSON’s `Think About Your Troubles’), BELLY left behind a satisfying but somewhat unfulfilled legacy; Greenwood would re-surface with riot grrrl band, L7; then BIF NAKED.
Once a BREEDERS member herself, and witnessing that combo’s on/off re-birth which culminated in a second comeback set, “All Nerve” (2017), Tanya’s flagging solo career was put to one side for BELLY’s self-financed reunion album, DOVE (2018) {*7}; it’d been a couple of years since the indie band officially re-formed, and 23 years since their previous long-player. Thomas Gorman, Gail Greenwood and Christopher Gorman still combined well around the distinctive vocals of Tanya, though overall the 4-piece sounded slightly subdued at times; psych-folk-ish rather than dreamy pop/rock. If recreating the 90s was their goal, then `Army Of Clay’, `Stars Align’, `Suffer The Fools’ and `Shiny One’, deserved its brief place in the UK Top 40 (it reached only #136 on home-soil).
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Sep2013-May2018

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