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The Bell X-1 was the first aeroplane to breach the sound barrier in controlled, level flight. Their namesake, the indie band Bell X-1, have notched up a few sonic milestones of their own in this epic, fluent album. Shame on me for never having heard of these gifted artists from County Kildare, at least until an Irish friend decided to share her iPod with me.
Bell X-1 are musical heavyweights in Ireland, and well known on the indie circuit here, but have not yet achieved truly mass-market success in Britain. On the basis of this album, it is only a matter of time. Here, Paul Noonan, David Geraghty, Dominic Philips and Brian Crosby demonstrate lyrical power, a mastery of harmony and a sophisticated artistic sensibility.
The lyrics are intelligent, the music soft and acoustic at times, raw and energised at others. In short, this is a fine album.
The title "Flock" clearly has undertones of either sheep or a religious group, and indeed there are a few subtle allusions throughout the album - "Yes I covet my neighbour's wife". The cover notes clearly reference the band's own "flock" (presumably friends/family/followers) and the album cover, in another visual pun, is red flock wallpaper with silhouettes of people interspersed. It's a striking, arresting cover art theme that is replicated in both red and blue throughout the album. Maybe it's really just all about suburban domesticity after all :-)
The melodic opening chords of "Reacharound" lull you into a false sense of security before Bell X-1 rip into open the first track. This song is one of the most driven and heaviest on the album. It's an extraordinary attack on corruption and graft in the political system and the song effectively links the world's second oldest profession (politics) with the actual oldest. There's a lot of bitterness and anger here - "Cute hoors in the corridors of power". Great lyrics!
This song is hook-laden, rhythmic and incredibly catchy. The lyrics are even sublime at times (Your flesh it melts in my mouth like Holy Communion/But you don't really care for Jesus now, do you?). They're also ridiculous at some points, but you won't forget the chorus in a hurry: "I wanna be near you, and blink in your light, and toast marshmallows on a cold dark night". The theme is pretty clear - the singer is drawn in like a moth towards the (beautiful but dangerous?) flame of his lover.
Rocky Took a Lover
This is a surreal, dreamy and intensely melodic song that tells an immensely engaging story. It was released as a single after achieving cult status via airplay. It's a love song and the champion narrator reflects on the transient nature of fame and mortality: "The sun gives life and it takes it away. But like all the greats, it will burn out some day". All this is sung to the accompaniment of what seems to be some kind of synthesised Hammond organ. The video, featuring cartoon characters in what looks like an art-school production, is worth a view on Youtube. The song has apparently acquired a new and recent lease of life following its use in a Dublin Bus TV advert.
He Said She Said
An abrasive, somewhat repetitive track: you can feel the venom in the lyrics as the story of relationship breakdown unfolds.
Bad Skin Day
Great song, unusual theme and psycho-drama that explores unusual musical territory but leaves to a a lovely bridge - "Someday we'll all wear a crown"
Natalie is clearly an ex-girlfriend. This song is beautifully melodic, although with a fair degree of inner anguish too: "this is the kind of love that maims us". Well as Noonan sings, "history is written by the winners". Cheer up old boy.
Bigger than Me
Some good riffs here in a catchy slice of Southern pub-rock. Nothing unique here, but you'd have to be heartless not to warm a least a little to the rhythm.
Just Like Mr Benn
Here is a dream-like melodic song with an Alice in Wonderland type quality. It apparently references the classic Seventies childrens' TV programme. The bridge is superb and the refrain will softly sink itself into your memory. This music really is like nothing else out there. At a push, it could be compared to some of Saint-Etienne's softer, less dancy, moments on "Foxbase Alpha".
The last three songs on the album are invariably high quality but less obvious hits. "My First Born for a Song" is a little obscure and repetitive. "Trampoline" opens with radio samples. It's an intelligent and cacophonous story but a little too introspective and whiny for my tastes. The counter-harmonies are fantastic though.
Finally, "Lamposts " (with a single P) has an evocative almost Suede-like opening and lyrics that stop you in your tracks: "I've got your blood, under my fingernails". The song is fantastic with another melodic chorus and is a subtly worded confession: "I've been walking you into those lampposts again - I'd rather do that than let go of your hand". After a silence the music floods back to a reach a crescendo. Emotionally honest and complex, this is a beautiful way to end the album.
So these are sophisticated, resonant tracks with both weight and moments of melodic power. Flock is an authentic, essential album which appears to me like a band poised on the threshold of greatness. Bell X1, now without Crosby, will release their fourth studio album "Blue Lights On The Runway" in 2009. This is a band that seem to be coming to the height of their creative power. It may be a cliché, but it's true: Bell X-1 are surely now cleared for take-off.
(c) Paul/EasternStar 2008. Will be posted to Ciao as Westocean.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
3 Rocky Took A Lover
4 He Said She Said
5 Bad Skin Day
7 Bigger Than Me
8 Just Like Mr Benn
9 My First Born For A Song