When Belly broke up over twenty years ago I took my broken heart and I buried it in the ground. No one was to blame for the premature split – things just fall apart sometimes. Their songs though refused to die, their power only burrowing deeper into my soul over time. And other fans will tell you the same thing. The roots our fandom grew may have been invisible to most but slowly they began to form life again. It may have taken twenty years but now with their reunion and the release of their third album Dove, a new tree has burst through the ground and is spinning high above our heads. It’s hard not just to stare in wonder at what beauty we’ve helped bring back to life.
So yes ever since my copy of Dove has arrived I’ve felt so much joy in my heart just about holding the damn thing in my hands that I have hardly been able to think straight. I’ve started and stopped writing this about twenty times just so I can give the album another listen, just to savour its mere existence. If you have no idea about the history of the band or my fandom then I suggest you take a read over the essay I wrote earlier this year before you go any further.
Simply put: this album was made by four people who wanted to work together again for an army of fans who wanted to hear them play together again. In fact Tanya has said that they didn’t even think of the album as an actual viable product that ‘it was just the four of us in a room facing each other and it was fun, funny and really exciting.’ For them and us fans too.
How can one judge an album then that’s such a wild gift? Some reviews I’ve read give a perfunctory history of Tanya’s career and a quick recap of the songs as though they don’t understand how longed for this third child really is. I wasn’t sure myself if I could even write this review or do the album justice but in the end I decided the joy had to be shared.
Dove opens with Mine, which slowly creeps to life with eerie vocals and guitars before the music roars louder into a slice of grungy dream pop that feels all at once new and warmly familiar. They’re back and yes they can still rock. Then the glorious Shiny One which by now feels like an old friend, a classic Belly single – poppy but laced with an undercurrent of sweet menace.
The third song Human Child is already a favourite with fans, and I have to admit I wept the first time I heard it through. There’s so much emotion in the way it builds and unfurls. Lyrically it is about how memories and songs from the past have a grip on us, how we need to enjoy the light of the present. When Tanya sings It’s a beautiful night I’m here to drag you outside, well I melted into a puddle on the floor. I don’t think I’ve really recovered to be honest. God help us all when they play this one live.
Faceless starts with an acoustic strum and then rocks out again. The hook of the song is the line When I paint this day I’m going to paint you on fire and that feels like the perfect way to describe what art is trying to capture about life. Gail’s vocals sound great on this one too. Everything sounds so good, so fucking good. Did I mention I love this band?
Lyrically the band have always been full of riddles, mysteries to unravel, surreal poetry. Suffer the Fools is a example of more direct storytelling, about people uncertain of their potential future together. Maybe it’s about getting the band back together- who knows. In the end they accept they’d rather suffer each other than suffer the fools.
On ‘Girl’ Tanya could be singing to herself, since it’s all about waking up to the light of your songs. She sings about singing with a sense of renewed hope and wonder. Another real highlight is Army of Clay and the woozy sound on this one has an air of strangeness which the band always created so well.
Stars Align is actually the opening track on the vinyl version of the album (the order had to be rearranged due to the production) and it’s full of euphoric joy, all about putting your trust in fate. I could tell you it’s all going to be alright and it might not be a lie, Tanya sings and well I believed every word.
The last three tracks are more contemplative in mood. Quicksand is a slow building strum, reminiscent of some of Tanya’s solo work. Artifact is the so-called ‘country’ influenced one but to me it’s optimistic jangle pop with some nice steel guitar.
Heartstrings is anothet quiet acoustic song, with echoes of Stay. In the morning I’ll be gone, no of course I’ll be here. These contradictions in your heart and spirit are what makes life so scary and wonderful at the same time. We have horns and wings both. Things end and begin again, such is the cycle of life.
More than twenty years are gone but Tanya’s voice is as strong as ever, the music is still hypnotic, the lyrics still able to take your breath away. Maybe things are just a little more mellow in places but that’s to be expected. What is a really positive development is how much of a collaborative work this album is. All four members of the band wrote the songs together for the first time, it was coproduced by Tom and the photography on the sleeve was again taken by Chris. Hopefully this new found unity suggests a positive road for the band’s possible future (or maybe I’m just getting greedy now by wishing for more).
Belly might not be here to save us but it’s hard not to feel blessed at just being able to bathe in their light again. Dove is the sound of a band setting themselves free from their history, ready to take flight again. I, for one, am just happy to be here to take my hat off to them again.
LIVE SHOWS: http://bellyofficial.com/shows/