Wednesday, February 2, 2011

February 2: Belly, "Feed The Tree"

Artist: Belly
Song: "Feed The Tree"
Album: Star
Year: 1993

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Though many musicians would be more than satisfied with a single iconic band, there are a select few who are so talented, that it seems regardless of the group around them, musical greatness simply happens.  It is these elite performers that have helped to shape music over the decades, and it is truly impossible to picture the musical landscape without their presence.  Whether it was her groundbreaking work as part of Throwing Muses, her brief stint with The Breeders, or her later solo work, one cannot deny that Tanya Donelly belongs within such a list, and she rarely sounded as free and creative as her work within her short-lived project, Belly.  Unquestionably one of the most unforgettable bands to come out of the fertile "alternative rock" scene of the early 1990's, the band in many ways encapsulated the free spirited, "dark happiness" that is present across nearly all the music of the time, and it is due to their honest, beautiful sound that Belly were able to rise above their peers.  Blending together soft, soaring moods with an aggression and power that somehow worked perfectly together, the bands' 1993 debut, Star, remains one of the artistic high-points of the entire decade, and the album displays Donelly hitting her artistic stride.  Though every song on Star is nothing short of fantastic, in both content, as well as the way in which it changed the course of music history, there are few songs of the decade that can compare to Belly's magnificent 1993 single, "Feed The Tree."

As the song begins, it is easy to hear all the sides of Donelly's past, as the descending guitar riff has a tone and attitude that reflects her time in Throwing Muses, yet the song quickly shifts to a more sparse, light sound as the verse begins.  The way in which these two sounds play so perfectly with one another is largely due to the fantastic production work of Gil Nortion, whose previous work with bands like The Pixies as well as Throwing Muses made him a perfect fit for this project.  The tension created during the verses by the bass of Fred Abong and drummer Chris Gorman is absolutely fantastic, and it is this soft, almost nervous feeling that gives "Feed The Tree" much of its personality.  Adding in guitars from Donelly and Tom Gorman, and the overall sound of the group becomes an amazing clashing of sounds and moods.  Whether it is the way in which the bass seems to dance across the song or the brilliant fills from the guitars, it is very much the nuances of this song that make it so unforgettable.  The stark shift that "Feed The Tree" takes from the verses to the bridge and chorus sections adds to the overall impact of the song, and it is in this fact that one can clearly see just how much Donelly as grown as a writer.  Furthermore, there is a fantastic sense of movement on the song, and even during the slower sections, it is difficult to not get completely caught up in the mood that the band brings.

However, along with crafting the song so perfectly, one can also see "Feed The Tree" as the ultimate display of Tanya Donelly's superb voice and uncanny talent as a lyricist.  Having displayed in her previous projects an ability to work all over the vocal scale, "Feed The Tree" highlights her diverse sound, as the soft, low, reflective verse present a fantastic contrast to her soaring, powerful delivery during the bridge and chorus.  It is this shifting of styles that makes "Feed The Tree" all the more intriguing, and also provides for a great sense of drama on the song.  There is also a sense of raw, unrestrained emotion throughout "Feed The Tree," and it is moments like this that defined the new movement of music, pushing away from the over-produced, detached feel that represented much of the music of the 1980's.  Along with this straightforward, honest sound, the lyrics that Donelly sings stand as some of her finest work, and they were far deeper and more beautiful than nearly any other band at the time.  Though they can be interpreted in a number of different ways, Donelly claims that the song was about respect and commitment, using the tree as a place under which a family is buried over the generations.  With this knowledge in hand, the chorus of, "...take your hat off boy when you're talking to me, and be there when I feed the tree..." makes a great deal of sense, and it is this simple, yet powerful phrasing, combined with Donelly's amazing voice that make "Feed The Tree" such an unforgettable song.

There is perhaps no better gauge for the overall importance of "Feed The Tree" than when one inspects its performance and impact.  It is also in these elements where one can see the true difference between Belly and the previous projects of Donelly.  Though her previous groups were certainly influential in their own right, within Belly, Donelly was able to hit her stride and properly execute her amazing melodies that had their own unique pop sensibility.  Songs like "Feed The Tree" share very little with the music that was being created previously within the pop scene, yet the song reached the top spot on the "Modern Rock" charts, and remains one of the most definitive songs of the decade.  The fact that a song with such a non-traditional arrangement and dark mood was able to achieve this success is a testament to the sonic beauty and brilliance that one can find within, and there are a number of bands that attempted the same formula in the wake of Belly's success.  Whether it was the sharp, yet stark drumming, the uniquely distorted bass and guitars, or the shifts in tempo, there has never been another song quite like "Feed The Tree," and the way in which Donelly's voice soars across the chorus remains breathtaking even almost twenty years later.  Though every song on Star is outstanding, one can make the case that all of the talents of Belly came together perfectly in the form of their pivotal 1993 single, "Feed The Tree."

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