Bell x1 – Bloodless Coup
Having heard ‘Hey Anna Lena’ a couple of months back, it seemed as if Bell x1 might have totally gone back to the drawing board for album number 5. It was a seachange from the Talking Heads vibe of Blue Lights on the Runway, and a million miles from earlier singles like ‘Flame’ and ‘Eve, the Apple of My Eye’. Some more cultured critics even stood up and took notice, and the song was even mentioned on Nialler9, whose tastes are usually much more nuanced. However, second track, and proper lead single ‘Velcro’ confirmed that Bell x1 may have been trying out new ideas on the new album, but it would still incorporate elements of old.
I’ve been a fan of Bell x1 for a long time now. I was dismayed when Juniper folded and Damien Rice went out on his own, but when the rest of the band stuck together for Neither Am I, I was very relieved. That first Bell x1 album is very much a Juniper record, only with less Damien. Second album Music in Mouth, however, is their highpoint. A perfect pop-rock album, much more accessible than the debut, and free of filler. In fact, it’s one of the best Irish albums ever.
Third album Flock was a misstep, after MiM, they failed to repeat the success, and were left with a few good singles and little more. Then Blue Lights came along and showed that the band had decided “enough of this, we want to be Talking Heads.” The results were mostly positive, however the album failed to match the live impact of the songs.
Number 5 continues on from where Blue Lights left off, and is a better album as a result. There’s just as much cultural nods and witty lines as ever, but the songs sound complete in their studio incarnations. Helped by the acoustic tour last year, the band all know their way around these tunes, and Bloodless Coup sounds like a band in their stride.
It’s an extremely confident record, encompassing a variety of styles. ‘Nightwatchman’ has the feeling of their earliest work, while ‘Sugar High’ and the funky ’4 Minute Mile’ are straight out of the David Byrne songbook. ‘Safer than Love’ is an 80s synth-led pop tune, which features glorious vocal interplay from Paul Noonan and David Geraghty. ‘Haloumi’ also has pop classic written all over it, and is sure to become a staple of their live show.
The only misstep on the record falls at the feet of David Geraghty, unfortunately. I love his solo work, and feel that his fingerwork is fantastic with Bell x1, but his ‘Built to Last’ totally feels out of place with the rest of the album. There’s room for slower songs like ‘The Trailing Skirts of God’, but ‘Built to Last’ is far more a Geraghty solo tune than a Bell x1 one.
Bell x1′s best album? Not quite? But better than their last? Certainly. I know they’ll never make another Music in Mouth, and their radio-play and fanbase won’t allow for a second Neither Am I. But when you know a band can make records that good, you’ll always be disappointed when they don’t. That said, this is probably one of few albums that will get listened to every month of the year without fail. Utterly listenable, and very enjoyable, but it’s not their masterpiece. It’s just good.