This Belly article was written by Nick Palmer, a GIGsoup contributor
Similar to the story of Pod, by The Breeders, Star was the result of a trapped songwriter. Throwing Muses’ Tanya Donelly had formed Belly in 1991 after leaving her old band, feeling that she was unable to truly express herself with her half-sister and lead songwriter Kristin Hersh providing the lion’s share of the material.
It wasn’t just the volume of Hersh’s material, but the its weirdness too, Donelly admitted that, compared with her half-sister, her songwriting was more simple and conventional. Donelly wanted to write hits, whereas Hersh just wrote whatever spilled out of her head.
This philosophy is evident when comparing Star to any Throwing Muses album. The Belly debut is certainly poppier, which is not a knock against it – it’s a fantastically put-together collection of pop songs which, when it came out, served as a bit of an antidote to a post-Nevermind climate of angst and grunge. It’s actually amazing that Star did so well commercially, given the climate of the music industry at the time. It reached No. 2 on the UK Albums chart and the first single, ‘Feed the Tree’ grew to 95 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US.
It’s evident that Donelly had a large backlog of songs building up, since there’s 15 of them on this debut, making it 50 minutes in total. Starting off with the morose and mellow ‘Someone To Die For’, Donelly sings of sacrifice and love over a lutish-sounding guitar.
‘Everyword’ sounds like it could have come straight out of Kim Deal’s head – Donelly’s time in The Breeders must have influenced her a little. Opening with a distorted guitar line and turning onto a plodding drumline straight out of Pod, the song lightens up with the first instance of “I heard every word”, before slowing down again.
‘Gepetto’ one of Star’s upbeat singles, was a holdover from Throwing Muses’ 1991 album The Real Ramona and though it could have sat on that album quite comfortably, it definitely belongs more here.
‘Feed The Tree’ was the breakout single for the band, and combined with The Breeders’ ‘Cannonball’, made 1993 a very good year for 4AD. It’s a catchy tune, with hooks a-plenty, and Donelly’s voice fits it perfectly, full of flare and attitude.
Whilst Belly didn’t survive the aftermath of their second album and aren’t particularly well remembered now, it’s a testament to the quality of 4AD in this era that even the more obscure stuff is still of such great quality.