In recent memory, so many 90s alt-rockers have re-emerged from the shadows that it’s difficult to keep track of who’s still on hiatus. Reunions have become so commonplace that many of them don’t even register with casual music fans. However, in the case of Belly, reconvening feels both entirely unexpected and wholly warranted. It’s been 23 years since the band has released a new album, but Dove feels like precisely the album they would have made directly after 1995’s King.
From the opening snarl of “Mine,” it’s clear that this record is going to take its listener on a journey back in time. That’s not to say it’s a nostalgia piece. At a time when alternative rock is trying to recreate the magic of the early 90s, Dove feels right at home among the countless contemporary acts who are trying to sound like Belly and their peers. Still, it is undoubtedly looking toward the future, or at least the future that was set out before the band when they went into retirement. Sonically, it preaches a message of hope, even when the lyrics tell a different story.
While Dove boasts its share of bubbly tracks (“Human Child,” “Faceless”), it proves to be much more artistically diverse than Belly’s previous efforts. Each song has its own distinctive aesthetic ambitions, often adding hints of genre-hopping instrumentation, from tribal drums (“Shiny One”) to swooning strings (“Girl”) to smoky steel guitar (“Artifact”). Sure, the album has its missteps – like the heavy-handed “Army Of Clay” (“I see the truth break over your face like a bad egg”) – but it’s only because Tanya Donelly and company are still testing the boundaries of their sound, even after all these years. Anyone expecting a toothless rehash of “Feed the Tree” is sure to be sorely disappointed.
The middle-aged bandmates have taken up lives of environmental activism in the wake of their split and their politics have oozed into their music, but they certainly aren’t above angsty breakup tracks. “Suffer the Fools” and “Quicksand” tell the stories of couples drifting apart, but they could just as easily be applied to the fallout of a band. “I was gone before you came,” the latter song informs us. There is a wisdom to its message than can only come with the maturity of knowing when to let go.
The era of 120 Minutes has long passed and many music fans now associate the band’s moniker with the Palestinian-Canadian rapper, but Belly didn’t run out of ideas. They were simply waiting for the right moment to make a follow-up statement, and it would appear that they’ve found it. Dove proves that they’ve used the last two decades to nail down their priorities, both musically and philosophically. Much like their cult fanbase, Belly have outgrown the nineties, with no intention of reliving their post-grunge glory days.