To say it's been "quite a spell" since Tanya Donelly's last record would be an understatement. After a near five-year hiatus, she's back with a tighter focus and gobs more material. A few important things have happened since Lovesongs For Underdogs
was released in 1997, the most important being the birth of her first child. The second matter of importance is that she has taken this time to craft and assemble Beauty Sleep
, a solid album of sweet pop songs. Forget about the Donelly days of yore, clouded by the success of Throwing Muses and elevated to mainstream stardom with Belly. On Beauty Sleep
, Donelly offers honest and introspective songs that prove she has come into her own.
"The Night You Saved My Life" is a pretty pop song with soft melodies and strong vocals. It leads with a robust guitar line and unison humming, then eases into a steady beat and acoustic strumming. Donelly layers her vocals into shimmering harmonies as the song builds towards its surprising finale of quiet glockenspiel. "The Wave", in contrast, begins with a quiet guitar intro and quirky keys, but these quickly step back to showcase Donelly's strong vocal performance. The lyrics are well-crafted, conveying both the feeling of being totally exposed and the scary and empowering feeling of taking comfort in those who know you (sometimes better than you know yourself). "Moonbeam Monkey" gains a more exotic feel from its meditative pacing and Mark Sandman's haunting, low-rumbling vocals, which prove a perfect contrast to Donelly's signature breathiness. While "Moonbeam Monkey" has a PJ Harvey-meets-Can feel, Donelly's performance shows that she's more than just "that girl who was in the Breeders". She's found her strength in Beauty Sleep's versatility.
At times strong, at other times vulnerable, and invariably honest, Donelly both affirms and fulfills the promise of her songwriting talent with Beauty Sleep. If you've grown tired of your old Belly records, give it a spin -- you'll feel just as refreshed as she clearly does.