Lovesongs For Underdogs

Tanya Donelly

4AD Records, 1997

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


After spending your career as part of a band and having to be part of a team, what happens when you step out on your own and start a solo career?

Tanya Donelly recently faced this exact dilemma. After being part of Throwing Muses and leading her own alternative rock band Belly for two albums, Donelly returns to the airwaves with her first solo effort, Lovesongs For Underdogs. And while I was interested in hearing this disc, I will admit I had some skepticism as I ripped into the shrinkwrap. I don't believe I've ever heard Throwing Muses, but Belly had not impressed me past the singles.

Twelve songs and 45 minutes later, it was crystal clear that Donelly is a much more solid artist when she is on her own; Lovesongs For Underdogs is a surprisingly good release, and one of the best I've heard this year.

From the opening moments of "Pretty Deep," Donelly is out to set herself apart from her previous work. For the most part, gone is the little-girl singing voice she displayed in albums past. Here is a richer, more powerful voice that carries more weight than ever before. Donelly's guitar work (and, on many tracks, keyboard work) is equally impressive; this is a woman who has definitely grown as a musician since the last time I heard her.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Many of the songs on Lovesongs For Underdogs follow in the same vein. "The Bright Light" has a great drum backbone that powers the track, along with some solid songwriting from Donelly. "Mysteries Of The Unexplained" is a song that will take a couple of listens, but it grows on you. "Goat Girl" is a surprise here, with a softer touch on the guitars adding an even more powerful punch.

Many of the songs on this album tend to sound the same -- normally a trait I don't enjoy. However, on Lovesongs For Underdogs it works to Donelly's advantage, so when she goes to a slightly different style, you tend to appreciate it even more. Without this pattern of songwriting, cuts like "Bum" and "Manna" might have been lost in a swirl of different songwriting genres. The only negative about staying in the same vein -- if you can even call it that in this case -- is you'll need to listen to the disc twice to appreciate the album in its entirety.

Actually, it is on frequent listenings of this album that some of the tracks step forward to show themselves off. "Landspeed Song" reveals itself to be a powerful track, as does "Acrobat." In fact, the more I listened to Lovesongs For Underdogs, the more I really liked it.

Donelly only stumbles twice on Lovesongs For Underdogs. No matter how many times I listen to it, I just can't get into the track "Lantern." I guess it's the pauses after the chorus that throws me; I tend to think pausing like this takes away from the overall power of the track. The album's closer, "Swoon," also fails to impress me -- it's almost like Donelly ran out of gas by the time she hit this song. (Donelly is not the only artist to fall into this trap -- it almost seems like artists put their weakest material at the end of their albums.)

But what about her long-time fans from her days in Throwing Muses and Belly? I think that this album will leave them asking themselves why Donelly didn't step forward sooner to embark on a solo career. Sure, Belly served its purpose, creating cuts like "Feed The Tree," but I personally think all that pales in comparison to this album.

Lovesongs For Underdogs is a reminder of the power alternative music was supposed to have before it was designated the flavor of the month. Donelly embraces the best parts of her past and establishes herself as the new alternative goddess (replacing such names as Juliana Hatfield and Liz Phair). Give this one a couple of spins and let it slap you upside the head with its power -- it never felt so good.

Rating: A-

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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of 4AD Records, and is used for informational purposes only.