Belly – King

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

Belly’s second album should’ve been a hit. It was clearly a bid for stardom, with the unexpected but not wrong choice of old guard producer Glyn Johns (Clash, Zeppelin, Beatles, Stones, Who). And the songs were beefed-up rockers, lacking the dream pop elements of the debut, and likely the result of the influence of new bassist Gail Greenwood. But I guess grunge and Brit pop – and their emphasis on maleness – killed any chance this record had to succeed, and within a year the band was done (mostly due to strained interpersonal relationships after non-stop touring behind Star and then working on and touring King). Donnelly released some solo albums, Greenwood joined L7 (a match made in heaven) and one of the Gormans played with Buffalo Tom. Then, they got back together in 2016. I admit the reunion album didn’t do much for me, but I was thrilled to be able to finally see them live at the Vic.

What I Think of This Album

King sees a lot of changes for Belly:  a more democratic approach to songwriting, with Donelly sharing credit with either Greenwood or Tom Gorman on over half the tracks; the jettisoning of much of the spooky feel of the first album as well as the dream pop sonics; the more direct, rocked-up approach, reasonably polished up by producer Glyn Johns; and the blatant carnality, with lyrics like “my bee-stung tongue wants in there,” “throw your clothes in the hallway,” “I want you locked in the middle,” and of course, “I’d like to see you naked.”

Nonetheless, the core tunefulness remained, as did Donnelly’s elastic voice and her penchant for unusual lyrical imagery. There is also a lot of rhythmic variety here, especially within songs, where unexpected shifts in feel and tempo abound. For example, “Puberty” starts out with a syncopated drum pattern and subdued guitar, before surging into loud full band mode. “Red” alternates between two distinct feels and then shifts into a third, poppier approach at almost the two minute mark (and then going back to the slower intro feel again). Similarly, “King” – one of the best songs here – shifts back and forth between the riff heavy portion and the melodic portion during its four glorious minutes. “Now They’ll Sleep” – even better than “King” – opens with a sludgy intro before transitioning to a shimmering catchiness that surpasses anything on Star. “L’il Ennio” goes through a few changes, also, but what stands out is the punctuation by machine gun snare hits and a soaring Donnelly vocal.

Otherwise, the hookiness is more straightforward on tracks like the driving “Super-Connected,” the dark and sexy “Untitled and Unsung,” and opener “Puberty.”  The ballads are the songs that preserve the connection to Star, with “Silverfish” employing a typical Donnelly lyric of “Silverfish / Line his pockets” as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Donelly shines on “The Bees,” with her voice (double-tracked at times), delivering a love note that its equal parts threat and devotional. Still, the standout slow number is the epic “Judas My Heart;” Gorman’s piano accompaniment on this sweeping, dramatic piece is perfection. If you can only buy one Belly album, this is the one I recommend.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Now They’ll Sleep” is a phenomenal song (“You know the shape my breath will take before I let it out”).

Release Date

February, 1995

The Cover Art

This gambling motif – dice and playing card suits – doesn’t make any sense and bears only a tangential relationship to the album title. I like the gold tones of the cover, and of course the reappearance of the band logo, but that’s it. Another dud from v23.

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