The sexiest thing a guy can say to me is, “You’ve got to check out this band,” and then text me a link, hand me a CD or share his ear buds. This is just how I was introduced to the band Belly and their Star album.
Revisiting the album, I am struck by its bizarre composition. Listening to just the singles, I forgot the haunting tone of the entire album. The distorted guitars, ethereal vocals and flat-out strange nonsensical lyrics are juxtaposed with catchy hooks and toe-tapping beats. During songs like “Angel,” “Gepetto” and “Feed the Tree” I can’t help but want to put on a baby-doll dress and spin around and dance. Soon, I find myself singing along with lyrics about decapitated dolls, silver-toothed babies, angels that moved a river and a frog that makes outrageous demands.
Just because I struggle to find meaning in many of the lyrics, doesn’t mean the album fails to trigger my memory and pull me back to the summer before my junior year of high school. I attended a summer program at the University of Minnesota and ran into a guy I hadn’t seen since my freshman year. He was the first guy to ever pay any real attention to me. He actually used to carry my books and walk me to class. Then one day he was just gone; I guessed his family had moved away. This was before cell phones and Facebook. So, I was shocked to cross paths, more than a year later, hundreds of miles away from home.
We picked up right where we left off, and spent every free moment together during that week long program. One night we took a walk across the campus. While we looked across the Minneapolis skyline, the conversation flowed so easily. The whole thing seemed so romantic in my 16 year-old brain. All I could think about was how awesome it would be if he kissed me. Just as I thought he was leaning in for the kiss, he reached down for his backpack and pulled out the Star CD. He proceeded to tell me how awesome the album was and that I had to hear it.
When I got home from that summer program, I rushed to the record store and bought Star. The album opens with an eerie guitar and Tanya Donelly’s evocative vocals repeatedly singing, “Don’t you have someone to die for.” This song sets the tone for the entire album and fed the angst of a 16 year-old girl.
The somber “Someone to Die For” drives right into “Angel.” While Angel still possesses strange lyrics and an eerie sound, Belly introduces the melodious hooks that helped propel Belly from MTV’s Buzz Bin to Grammy contenders. While some may relegate Belly as a one hit wonder, that is unfair to Donelly. As a driving influence behind the Throwing Muses and the Breeders, she helped shape 90s alternative with her surreal sounds and bizarre lyrics.
Today, when Belly pops on my iPod, I smile as I fondly remember that fleeting memory of a first crush. Belly’s music still moves me, but for very different reasons. Now, one of my favorite songs on the album is “Every Word.” To me, the song represents unconditional love. No matter what barriers are put in place by the antagonist, the protagonist is still there. “Oh, you told me too much/You thought I would leave you/ I heard every word.” I think about my husband every time I hear this song. I have thrown all kinds of crazy at him, testing him, seeing if he would leave. But he’s still here.
Musically, “Every Word” is strangely awesome. At about two minutes in, the music dramatically pauses and comes back with a guitar so distorted and sad it sounds like a theremin.
Belly certainly isn’t all about the bass, but they do incorporate some strong bass lines in a handful of songs like “Low Red Moon,” and it is what makes songs like “Feed the Tree” so fun and catchy. This is probably why it was the band’s biggest song.
The beauty of listening to Star from start to finish is hearing the mix of alternative tones with poppy beats. The album is capped off with a strange lullaby, “Stay.” The lyrics here make perfect sense. The ghostly repetition of, “It’s not time for me to go,” stays in my head and make me want to put the CD on repeat.
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