June 17, 2002

Belly "Sweet Ride: Best of Belly"

Listening to Sweet Ride, Belly's "greatest hits," has really brought back an overflow of emotions and recollections about the "good" "old" "days" of 1992-1994, back when "Alternative Rock" had some semblence of decency, some sort of meaning, and it seemed, if ever-so-briefly, that the music I liked might just help eliminate the crapola on the radio. Belly, though, was the angel-girl band that I thought the world of.

See, I was a big Throwing Muses fanatic, and when I learned that Tanya Donelly had left them in order to form her own band, I was estatic--for she was a most neglected talent in the Muses. Like George Harrison, her one or two songs per album would really sparkle and shine, always hinting at an unpolished greatness. Unfortunately for the Muses, Donelly decided to carry her aesthetic elsewhere.

After a brief touring stint in her side-project The Breeders, she was off to record and release the Slow Dog EP--and from there, the hype began. Initially a trio, Belly released Star, to much critical acclaim from respected media outlets and teen magazines alike. Of course, several of these songs had been attempted with the Throwing Muses, and thus some had a more-than-similar sound to her Muses work. That wasn't a real complaint, though. With its sweetly deceptive lyrics and Donelly's little-girl voice, Star was a shoo-in for stardom. Between childike crooning, sexy singing, and weird words rested the pulse of a pure-pop monster, one that the Muses could never have achieved, and yours truly--then a bookish, post-teen undergrad--fell for them HARD. Bigtime.

When it came time to follow up, with 1995's King--after having grammy nominations, successful tours, and tons of press--Belly, well...failed to click. Perhaps because they took too long to follow up on their initial success or perhaps because it wasn't as hyped--it's a difficult call, because King was miles above Star. While Star was a sweetly bitter pill, King was a bittersweet pill, and the music was darker, too. With the addition of Gail Greenwood, Belly were really a much fuller-sounding band. For whatever reason, King failed to click. Except for one or two songs, it didn't move me, eihter. Too bad, and Belly quietly called it a day.

It's probably a case of late-20's nostalga, but Belly fit in quite nicely in my pop-culture growth. I remember the joy of finding the "Feed the Tree" cassingle at a small East Texas Walmart. I remember the joy of FINALLY getting the Slow Dog EP and waiting for the full length. I took great joy in seeing them on late-night TV shows, even if David Spade dissed them on Saturday Night Live. I remember thinking "What??" to their cover of "Are You Experienced?" on a tribute to Jimi Hendrix. And the interviews, too, which focused on how NICE Tanya and the crew really were. Oh and that show I saw, where their Star shone so brightly, leaving in the shadows that creepy, Britpop flavor-of-the-month band Radiohead (Gee, I wonder what ever became of that band?)

But when I picked up Sweet Ride, for some reason, I choked. Would the music really hold up against the sands of time--that time when you knew that Frasier was intentionally set in Seattle and that Friends was a indirect spin-off of Singles. Fortunatly, the compliers of Sweet Ride knew that it would be a bit facetious to charge full-price for a record that would compile most of two records that could probably be found in most bargain-bins and would ultimatly be cheaper to purchase than the greatest hits record itself. Instead of sticking to the choicest album cuts, Sweet Ride provides all of the hits--in their single-remixed versions, one or two choice album cuts, and numerous B-sides, as well as the single unreleased King outtake, "Lillith." While the hardcore Belly fans probably have most of these songs already, it's safe to say that Sweet Ride is a new album altogether (Baby Silvertooth owners---bite your tongue!) and should not be considered a "best-of."

Of course, that's semantics for fanatics, and I loved Belly. It's good to hear some of the old B-sides again, such as "Trust in Me," "Hot Burrito #1," "Sweet Ride" and "Thief" all together, for these songs all compare quite nicely to the familiar hits of "Gepetto," "Feed the Tree" and "Seal My Fate." Belly were a shining star, and though they didn't shine long, their light still shines on for those who bother to look in their direction. While I may get older, my love of this band hasn't faltered, and now, listening back, it's slightly sad to know that their potential quickly disappeared after the spotlight moved on, but yet I feel content, knowing that a band like Belly even existed in the first place. Sweet Ride is an essential record for those of you who like indie-pop or just plain old smart music.

--Joseph Kyle

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