CLUAS Album Reviews

Bell X1 'Blue Lights On The Runway'

Feb 18

Written by:
Wednesday, February 18, 2009  RssIcon

A review of the album 'Blue Lights On The Runway' by Bell X1

Blue Lights On The Runway by Bell X1Review Snapshot: Uninventive indie rock dressed up in the too-large suit of Talking Heads, the new Bell X1 album has little in the way of invention or excitement. It would take a tectonic shift in their creative thinking for this band to become relevant or interesting again.

The Cluas Verdict? 5 out of 10

Full Review:
It’s a coincidence that the two major Irish album releases of spring 2009, ‘No Line On The Horizon’ by U2 and ‘Blue Lights On The Runway’ by Bell X1, have such similar titles. Apart from sounding alike, both titles evoke images of sky and travel. And both are aspirational and ambitious: they tell us that U2 know no boundaries and Bell X1 are revving for take-off.

In fact, the Kildare band’s fourth studio album is flat and unadventurous, like an interminable taxi round the runway without ever leaving the ground.

The funkiness of ‘Flock’ has been left off this new album. With its stylistic nods to arty post-punk and emotive indie-folk, the strongest influences this time around seem to be Talking Heads and a bit of Arcade Fire. The Heads comparison is most obvious on lead single ‘The Great Defector’, where Paul Noonan lapses into a David Byrne-style singing voice that pops up again at various points on the record. Lyrically, Noonan’s taste for yoking together random quips and images also recalls Byrne and Black Francis.

But all of that feels like fancy dress. This album falls flat because there aren’t any outstanding tracks on it; no catchy hooks or earworm choruses to help these songs stay in the memory. Chord progressions are safe and familiar. Verses feature long lines of bedsit-romantic lyrics delivered with little melodic variety; we can tell that there are choruses because some lyrics are repeated. And there are two instances of maudlin piano ballads: ‘Light Catches Your Face’ and ‘The Curtains Are Twitchin’. Noonan’s distinctive Kildare vowels, like on ‘One Stringed Harp’, offer rare moments of colour and individuality, and that’s about all.

Quite simply, it’s stale and boring stuff – far from the tuneful charm of their 2000 debut, ‘Neither Am I’. Today’s newly-prominent Irish acts, such as Jape and Fight Like Apes, are making music that’s inventive and exciting. Next to them, Bell X1 sound like a band whose time has passed.

All in all, ‘Blue Lights On The Runway’ is just one step up from the horrors of Snow Patrol. The last Snow Patrol album, ‘A Hundred Million Suns’, shares the luminous, aspirational title imagery of this Bell X1 release, and both bands deal in the same over-earnest indie that plays on emotion over excitement.

Worthy but unoriginal – by analogy with landfill indie, can we consider Bell X1 and their peers as recycling-centre indie?

Aidan Curran

Location: Blogs Parent Separator Album Reviews

10 comment(s) so far...


Re: Bell X1 'Blue Lights On The Runway'

I've had a feeling for a while that the Bellies are going the same way as Snow Patrol, i.e. taking the path most travelled. I do like Noonan's lyrics though, it's like he just cuts and pastes random passages of text from Soundings and other leaving cert material and sings them in tune. However, like the new U2 release, this is an album I won't be spending my hard earned dole money on over the next few weeks.

By Steve on   Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Re: Bell X1 'Blue Lights On The Runway'

I'm a 'Soundings' man too. That book had a strange and marvellous effect on so many people. We must get a group together just to talk about it and have readings of 'The Planter's Daughter'.

(On a similar theme: any Con Houlihan fans out there?)

By aidan on   Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Re: Bell X1 'Blue Lights On The Runway'

Hard to take the review seriously when you refer to 'the tuneful charm of their 2000 debut, 'Neither am I' given that the band themselves would admit how poor that album was. Had you referenced 'Music in Mouth' you may have had a point....

By Big Game on   Friday, February 27, 2009

Re: Bell X1 'Blue Lights On The Runway'

Neither Am I was bo no means a poor album at all, some of my favourite Bell X1 songs are off that - Slowset, Pinball Machine and Blue Rinse Baby.

By Garret on   Monday, March 02, 2009

Re: Bell X1 'Blue Lights On The Runway'

I find this review quite harsh to be honest. Considering Bell X1 have been promoting 'Flock' for the last three years, the last thing I was expecting was 'more of the same please' (something that U2 have become past masters at for over 10 years now).

By Ken on   Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Re: Bell X1 'Blue Lights On The Runway'

Aidan, you sound like you have a personal vendetta against the band. No catchy hooks or choruses? Did you even listen to it? The album is full of catchy pop songs with choruses and harmonies, plus its varied, as all good albums are. Thankfully no one took your bile or your opinion seriously, as it went number one. How about some objectivity in future?

By Sarah on   Sunday, March 08, 2009

Re: Bell X1 'Blue Lights On The Runway'

Well said Sarah!! Is it just me or is Cluas, in shades of Viz, gone a lot less relevant than it used to be?? Well written reviews are one thing but navel gazing bile dressed up as wordsmithing and opinion is quite another...

And thankfully for any of us on the dole, the Bellies have the entire record available for streaming via their site... as well as plenty of songs on Myspace...

By Dave on   Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Re: Bell X1 'Blue Lights On The Runway'

Saw BellX1 concert in New York City last Saturday. Their shows always brill. Album only released in America a few weeks back so not a lot of time to familiarize myself with the music but my first listen was not impressive. However, upon second time - it really started to grow on me. Yes, it's not Flock but if I wanted Flock, i would just listen to that now, wouldn't I, Aidan?! And your comment of Neither Am I without even mentioning Music In Mouth -- well, let's just say you lost all credibility at that point. Lastly, i'm really tired of the U2 bashing. C'mon -- you try and make one relevant album, much less 25+ years worth of music. Other than Put On Your Boots, it's a very solid effort. Let's see your efforts, hmmmm Aidan.

By Migs on   Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Re: Bell X1 'Blue Lights On The Runway'

Idiot Kid, what is this book 'Soundings' and what do Bell XI use from it? I'm curious!

By Iambeave on   Monday, April 13, 2009

Re: Bell X1 'Blue Lights On The Runway'

'Soundings' was the Leaving Cert English poetry book up until the late '90s at least - a fantastic collection of poems. It featured 'The Planter's Daughter' by Austin Clarke, which has the line "They say that her beauty was music in mouth". Also, it contained Yeats' 'No Second Troy' about Maud Gonne, referenced in 'Alphabet Soup'.

By aidan on   Thursday, April 16, 2009

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