Album Review Bell X1 - Bloodless Coup

A reminder of how ambitious and unique Bell X1’s sound can be.

There’s something incredibly refreshing about bands who refuse to keep still and continue to try new things. This is the kind of ambition and desire to take risks that I’d like to see more of. Bell X1 are a prime example - then again, you wouldn’t expect a band named after the first aircraft to pass the speed of sound to be anything else.

Mighty oaks from little acorns grow, as the saying goes, and here’s a band who are the very embodiment of it. In 2000, their debut ‘Neither Am I’ was only released in Ireland. Fast forward eleven years and they’ve enjoyed such highs as soundtracking The OC, and such lows as being dropped by their label in 2008, though the latter could be described as a blessing in disguise, for, as we all know, greater artistic freedom usually comes from going independent.

For their fourth album, 2009’s ‘Blue Lights On The Runway’, the group did just that, and the result was probably their most inventive record to date. That position has most definitely been usurped by its successor, and in quite an emphatic manner to boot. ‘Bloodless Coup’ is a reminder of how ambitious and unique Bell X1’s sound can be. They’ve taken ‘Blue Lights’ and injected it with a good deal more electronics than anyone thought possible. Oh, and funk. Plenty of funk.

It’s easily their most danceable record to date, though if you try to dance to glitchy opener ‘Hey Anna Lena’, you’ll go down like the proverbial lead balloon. Its awkward rhythms and odd time signature put a very Radiohead-y spin on things. It’s a relatively sparse introduction to Bell X1 Mark V, but most of the rest of the album is layered and lush, like the infectious lead single ‘Velcro’, an electro-pop gem made particularly distinctive by frontman Paul Noonan’s lyrics, brilliantly odd as usual: ‘Watching a six-year-old on YouTube, playing drums to ‘Billie Jean’ / This is the stuff that binds us.’

There’s more lyrical playfulness on the album’s best track, ‘4 Minute Mile’. It sounds more than a bit like Talking Heads, even more than ‘The Great Defector’ did, but, well, ‘that’s OK.’ Noonan reels off a list of the childhood dreams he had that went unaccomplished. Among these, he’s ‘never played for Barcelona’, nor (strangely enough) ‘had a salad at McDonalds.’ There’s also a line in there that runs like this (it’s one worthy of applause, not least for the delivery): ‘All the letters to Jim’ll Fix It lay somewhere in the basket, and the other guy got to play with Adam And The Ants.’

For all the typical humour evident on ‘Bloodless Coup’, there are weighter topics discussed too, among which are Ireland’s spectacular fall from grace thanks to the ‘jobs for the boys’ policy of cronyism operated by the last government, with some references to ghost housing estates thrown in for good measure (‘Let’s build this shit no-one’s ever gonna buy’). All this is handled very well indeed on ‘Sugar High’. Meanwhile, the wonderfully named ‘The Trailing Skirts of God’ documents the frontman’s loss of faith with plenty of memorable lines (‘skipping off Saturday evening mass for some solvent abuse’).

The album closer is the simplest and most heartfelt moment the album has to offer. ‘74 Swans’ is a gentle, acoustic-guitar led song which pays homage (intentional or otherwise) to W.B. Yeats’s ‘The Wild Swans At Coole’: ‘You were glad it was an even number / Everybody had another / No-one was facing the cold alone.’ It’s an effective end to an album that never once settles down from the moment it begins. Bell X1 continue to confound expectations and better themselves in the process. And the bloodless coup of the title? It refers to how effortlessly they have risen from humble beginnings and become a force to be reckoned with. That’s how I see it anyway.