For her third solo outing, Whiskey Tango Ghosts, Tanya Donelly trades in dissonance for country twang and crisscrossing melodies and multi-layered harmonies for more straightforward song structures. Gone are the so-called “ugly verses,” the ones that made Donelly’s big, bleeding choruses even more potent.
It’s a far cry from the alt-rock pioneer’s work with her former band Belly and it’s a sizeable departure from her last album, 2002’s Beautysleep. Whiskey Tango Ghosts is simpler and, in many ways, more pure. For most of the album, Donelly’s voice is front and center, accompanied only by piano and vocal (“Divine Sweet Divide”) or just a minimal shuffling rhythm section (“Golden Mean,” a song that’s not coincidentally about striking a balance). But despite its calm optimism, Whiskey Tango Ghosts is veiled in sullenness: “I have lost something,” she sings quietly on the disc’s opening track and then goes on to examine the impact of motherhood and domesticity on “My Life As A Ghost.” The album’s weaker moments (“Just In Case You Quit On Me,” “The Center”) sound like unfinished blueprints for something much, much bigger—but while Donelly is capable of a whole lot more, it’s clear she’s aware of the power of less.