Belly has a story that’s kind of typical for bands in the early 1990s.
If there was one thing that has been a constant in popular music since its inception is the one-hit wonder.
You know, the band that makes a hit song that just blows everything else at that very moment away, just to fade back into obscurity and conversations that go “oh, I remember them!”
If there was one thing I remember from being a teenager in the 1990s, it was MTV jumping all over the grunge and alternative music scenes, essentially making both the mainstream instead of the “alternative,” so to speak.
Not that it was a bad thing.
Our one-hit wonders were usually pretty good compared to a lot of the ones from the prior and following decades. It was a time between generic boy bands and Auto Tune where musicians were expected to write and perform their own songs with some level of level of heart and proficiency.
Even today, you’ll hear a lot of those one hit wonders playing on the “classic rock” stations.
One of those one-hit wonders was Belly, who originated in Boston.
Belly was a project by Tanya Donelly, who had already established herself in other bands like the Throwing Muses and The Breeders. She’s the singer for Belly and her raspy voice played a large part in grabbing the MTV audience’s ear and driving them to the store to buy the band’s first album, Star.
For Star, Donelly recruited Fred Abong to play bass, and brothers Chris and Tom Gorman- friends from her native Rhode Island- to play drums and guitar. Abong left the band right before the album’s release on Jan. 25, 1993, and was replaced by music scene veteran and hard-rocker Gail Greenwood.
Star would lead the album and Belly to two two Grammy nominations in 1994 for Best Alternative Album and Best New Artist. They would also be nominated by MTV for Best Alternative Video VMA and Best New Artist VMA in 1993. The album would go gold in 1994 after selling 500,000 units.
Much of this success can be attributed to a single song: “Feed the Tree.”
Unfortunately, none of Star‘s other songs made a splash like “Feed the Tree” and Belly faded from public consciousness within a year. They didn’t stop making music. They released the critically acclaimed King in 1995, but future mainstream success was elusive.
Belly would break up in 1996 and reform 20 years later in 2016 and will be putting out a new album named Dove sometime this year.
Unlike the high energy single that they were known for, Belly surprisingly kicks off Star with the slow-paced and stripped down “Someone to Die For.” The song is only Donelly singing over a lone guitar’s melody. It’s a good, if somewhat odd opener.
Things pick up with “Angel” where you hear the first signs of distortion that kick into a fast-paced number, where the drums move to the forefront to support Donelly’s vocals. It’s a cool number, with an echo-y guitar playing during the chorus. It also keeps that acoustic strum throughout, giving it a pretty intense and deep rhythm. It’s a good song and one of the standouts on the album, in my opinion.
The pace doesn’t slow down with “Dusted,” a track where the bass really shines. It’s not as good as “Angel” but still enjoyable. It sounds a bit like other alternative rock that was out there at the time, though Donelly’s vocal’s help elevate it above many of those other bands.
From there, Star is kind of a mixed bag. You have the Nirvana-esque “Every Word.” Then there are some of those really slow Americana-type numbers, like “Witch,” “Untogether” and the title track, “Star,” that serve better as background music close to last call instead of something you can sit and listen too. I mean, several songs have “filler” wrote all over them and are not memorable at all.
Standouts include “Gepetto,” which mixes elements of rock’s early day’s with the once-modern sound of the 90s, and “Slow Dog” with its catchy chorus and fast pace and “Low Red Moon” which is a stripped down, but menacing number. In the latter half of the album, there’s “White Belly” which is another slow, but large sounding but very nuanced song that’s worth hearing.
Of course, there’s the most famous song on this album, “Feed the Tree.” If you’ve never heard it, you’ll realize why. The beginning of it is like a cornucopia of sound, spinning your round and round, giving you a slight break during the verses before spinning you again. It’s a great song and it deserved to be a hit.
The final stand out on the album is “Sad Dress,” which is just a cool sounding song with that buzzing guitar you’ve come to know from many noise pop acts. The buzz isn’t at the forefront here, but you can still hear it. Pretty effective I think.
Did I miss out by not buying Star?
Well, that’s a tough one. There’s some really good songs on this album and not any outright horrible ones. If you look at it, there’s seven standout songs out of 12 tracks on Star. That’s better than the one-hit wonder average.
I say if you happen to see it on sale for a discount, then grab it right away, just don’t pay more than $5.