Hugely successful in their native Ireland, Bell X1 was introduced to American audiences last year when their 2005/6 album "Flock" was released in the U.S. It was better late than never for American music lovers. Sometimes referred to as an "Irish Coldplay", this is frankly a rather lazy comparison. Although sharing some of Coldplay's sense of melodic pop/rock, Bell X1 certainly boast a more varied sound with a greater emphasis on electronics and keyboards added to the mix.
Considering "Flock" was over two years old when finally released stateside, it was exciting news that a new release was slated for early 2009. "Blue Lights On The Runway", released in March in the States, seemed like a disappointment upon first listen. There was nothing that grabbed me immediately like "Rocky Took A Lover", "Bad Skin Day" or "Lamposts" did from "Flock." But give this album a chance to sink in, about a good three listens from start to finish and it'll reveal itself as a superior album to it's predecessor.
"Blue Lights" kicks off with the synth/rock of "The Ribs Of A Broken Umbrella," a track that has single written all over it. This is just the first hint that synths will play a bigger role on this album for the band. But the electronic feel is all over the next track, the tremendous "How Your Heart Is Wired." Starting with just a sparse electronic drum beat, vocalist Paul Noonan quickly joins in with an emotion soaked vocal performance of a relationship on the verge of a breakdown. "My tongue is scaling the north face of your neck/and we're glaring like warriors/but I've a feeling you won't look at me that way in the morning" he sings as squiggly keyboard noises and guitar scratches join the mix. He then compares the complexity of figuring out ones heart to defusing a bomb. "I don't know what you're carrying/or how your heart is wired/but there's a dangerous ticking/I'll cut the red one...no, the blue one." There are a lot of great lyricists working in music today but Noonan has a wicked wit and way with his words that is once again on display throughout the entire album as it was on "Flock."One of the more brilliant lyricists working in this genre today.
The album and band's big breakout song in the States has been "The Great Defector", the best Talking Heads song they never recorded. I found this song downright silly at first. Upon repeated listens, the damn thing is so ridiculously, undeniably catchy, you can't shake it and you're hooked. Outright rock is displayed on "Breastfed" and another album highlight "A Better Band." Exploring the space with some incredible background cowbell during the first half of the song, Noonan laments perceived personal failures ("I'm a failing restaurant, all expectant and sad/with one eye on the door, playing cards out the back/ I'm love me, love me, love me, I'm a small bit of a prick") before proclaiming he wants to be a "better band" and the whole song turns into an all out rock assault for it's second half.
The album is also not without one of Bell X1's biggest strengths and that is their wonderfully lovely ballads. There are no less than five on this album with none better than the stunning "Light Catches Your Face." Noonan declares "As light catches your face and you're smiling/this must be what all the fuss is about" against a backdrop of acoustic guitar and piano. This might just be the finest love song the band has composed. The dreamy, atmospheric "Amelia" is another standout. The album's longest song at nearly seven minutes, it never overstays its welcome. This applies to the entire work as there is not one song less than four minutes long with seven of the ten coming in at over five minutes long each. Don't let this scare you. Although it gives them room to experiment more and take songs in different directions as they do on "A Better Band," at every songs heart is the accessible pop/rock the band is known for. The increased exposure "Blue Lights On The Runway" has awarded Bell X1 stateside is well deserved.