Music: Bell X 1 * * *
Blue lights on the runway (Belly-up Records)
Bell X1 have had an up-and-down time of it lately. First, they parted company with their record label, Island -- their decision, we've been told.
Then, they made significant inroads into the US market, touring there on four separate occasions last year and bagging an appearance on Letterman. Yet, despite horizons being broadened, founder member Brian Crosby quit the band last summer in order to pursue a burgeoning career in production and an interest in movie soundtracks.
Much of the material on this fourth album was aired during their first Crosby-less shows last autumn and reaction was enthusiastic. There was an upbeat, playful quality to those newbies, and that spirit of fun is very much to the fore here on an album that scales the heights and truly plumbs the depths too.
Opener Ribs Of A Broken Umbrella takes a sweet story of unrequited love and wraps it in a synth-led, bubblegum-pop wrapper. It's the sort of song to silence the harshest critics.
Lead single, The Great Defector, is another radio-friendly stand-out that's got latter Talking Heads written all over it. Let's just say, if things go belly-up in the future, Paul Noonan, Dave Geraghty and Dom Phillips could have a comfortable career as a Talking Heads tribute band. Noonan has even got the David Byrne vocals down pat. Such is the glaring obviousness of its influence and its relentless chirpiness that it's easy to forget that there's a cracking song here, featuring one of the more memorable Bell X1 lines: "I love the way your under-wire bra always sets off the x-ray machine."
The Talking Heads influences pop up several times on the album -- just as it did on its predecessor, Flock. On A Better Band, in which Noonan expresses his frustration at not being able to write songs in the same league as his heroes, he sings of "the man in the big suit", a reference to Byrne's performance in cult movie Stop Making Sense. Amid passing references to a pair of other champions -- PJ Harvey and Gillian Welch -- the band let their art-rock imagination run riot.
The album was self-produced -- and with some aplomb. Ameila is especially lovely. It's inspired by the last moments of aviation heroine Amelia Earhart who crashed in the Pacific. Of a similar hue is Light Catches Your Face, the sort of tender ballad that Snow Patrol would probably sacrifice their bass player for.
So far, so good -- but the album has its problems. There's a definite "meh" factor to Breastfed and The Curtains Are Twitchin' -- songs that go nowhere fast.
And One Stringed Harp is shockingly poor. It's safe to assume that some female fans will blanch at these lines, inspired Noonan sings, by a Sunday magazine: "Come on now ladies/ They won't fertilise themselves/ Get into the ball game/ Let's clear those shelves."
But that's nothing on what might just be the crassest lyric you'll hear all year: "You're just picking the knickers from your arse/ Like you're playing a one-stringed harp."
Burn it: Amelia; A Better Band