Bell X1 - Bloodless Coup Album Review
Football and music share some common themes. They bring people together in an almost tribal fashion, they both stir emotions, they help to confirm or highlight many stereotypical traits and they bring a vast amount of pleasure to each of their fans. Where they differ enormously, certainly now-a-days, is how they get to be as big as they are. Although unlikely, it is now a possibility that one day Manchester City FC could be a bigger club, winning more trophies and topping more leagues than their fellow North-Western giants Manchester United FC. You'd probably still get good odds as the chances remain slim but it is nevertheless theoretically possible. Money can't buy you love, but a lot of it can buy you a football team, and even more of it may just bring you glory. If you were to compare this rather vulgar scenario with that of Bell X1 you still wouldn't place a bet, even if their record company were Universal/Sony/Syco or whatever. Bell X1 are Ireland's second biggest Rock band (The name of the other lot escapes me temporarily!) and alas, despite valiant efforts to alter that statistic that's all they will ever be. It's an unfortunate shame, but you can still celebrate coming second............"it's not the winning, it's the... " .Here's why.
'Bloodless Coup' represents the bands 5th full length album in their twelve year history. After burying Juniper once the Rice man had left for solo stardom the County Kildare men re-grouped and soldiered on to become the band they are today. The follow up to 'Blue Lights On The Runway' is no great sea change but it does have an air of confidence and craft that is born out of maturity, familiarity and knowing. With elements as diverse as Tubeway Army, ELO and The Blue Nile to be heard throughout the new album there is an awful lot to maintain your interest.
The opener 'Hey Anna Lena' starts with a drum machine and synthesised intro echoing the works of Daedelus. The high pitched vocals carry the track through its first half seemingly taking random familiar phrases and trying to make them into a coherent song................take these lines, throw them in the air and then put them together as a verse 'Can I get a witness', 'May the force be with you', 'We leave at first light' 'Let's get married' etc. The song morphs along the way building into an epic soundscape of whirling guitar breaks and hypnotically layered vocals before deconstructing itself and ending as it began. An ode to the spaceman's favoured fastening device 'Velcro' follows up citing YouTube videos of 6 year olds playing drums to Billy Jean as the stuff that binds us whilst driving the underlying message of love home by comparing relationships to a traditional wood joint!
Previous comparisons to other bands have inevitably resulted in there being some mention of the Talking Heads. On Bloodless Coup it is not sidelined but neither is it obvious as a poor pastiche or feeble piece of fawning flattery. The band have rather re-invented their influence and referenced it in a wholly creative rendering. 'Sugar High' is the clear stand out track on the album, it's their 'Road To Nowhere' and it's fabulous. Fidgeting its way forward it quickly slips into rhythm with its keyboard and percussive loops. A bass heavy beat underscores the pulsating pop, replete with vocoder enhanced backing vocals.
'Built To Last' slows the tempo to show us a little Elbow before an unexpected slice of Sheffield Electro Funk rears up on the wryly observed 'Four Minute Mile'.....he'll "Never play for Barcelona" or "have a salad at McD's"....."and that's OK most of the time." 'Safer than Love' is where you can here the occasional nod in the direction of Mr Numan before the altogether more organic sounds of 'The Trailing Skirts Of God' serve to remind you, if it were necessary, of the diversity to be heard on Bloodless Coup. The slap bass returns for track #9 'Haloumi', before the album outro '74 Swans' gently eases the ten track set to a close in an almost OCD way.
The fifth album from Bell X1 is rich with musical rewards that give themselves up in different guises with each listen. The album has a cohesion of production and protagonists but is creatively fertile and not ashamed to deviate from type or experiment along the way. Bloodless Coup is nothing like U2, Coldplay or Pink Floyd and it doesn't suffer in the least from not having either Damien Rice or Brian Crosby, in fact it's probably all the better because of it.