The CLUAS Archive: 1998 - 2011


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

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