Wednesday 22 November 2017

Music: Bloodless Coup by Bell X1 ****

(Belly-Up Records)

John Meagher

John Meagher

We're living in turbulent, uncertain times, yet only a handful of Irish musicians seem interested in acknowledging them. Jinx Lennon and Paddy Cullivan take a satirical approach when detailing Ireland's woes, while the most recent A Lazarus Soul album touched more subtly on the nation's fall from grace.

Bell X1 don't shirk from the challenge on this, their fifth album, with one of its standout songs, Sugar High, capturing Ireland's ugly brand of cronyism. There's talk of crooked politicians and cock-of-the-walk money men, as well as a thinly veiled reference to Fianna Fail's notorious hospitality tent at the Galway races.

Yet, there's a good chance that the casual listener will miss all of that because the words are wrapped in such an intoxicating sonic package. The extended instrumental at the end is exhilarating -- a joyous, percussion-led wig-out that captures the sense of fun the band had when making this album.

Bloodless Coup was recorded in a month -- a quarter of the time it took to nail down its uneven predecessor, Blue Lights on the Runway. According to frontman Paul Noonan, the 10 songs were completely written and thoroughly rehearsed before the band pitched up at Grouse Lodge studio, unlike before when they would start the recording sessions with sketchy material and then over-do the production.

There's a rough and ready feel to some of the songs, but this only adds to the charm -- especially on the gentle shuffle of The Trailing Skirts of God, a sweet, very-Irish song in which Noonan charts the decline of his Catholic faith.

The band's knack for radio-friendly pop is apparent throughout, not least on Four-Minute Mile, a playful tune that finds Noonan listing all those childhood (pipe) dreams that that will never be realised now that middle age approaches -- whether it's emulating Roger Bannister's landmark run or playing football for Barcelona (Paul, even the greatest players dream of turning out for the Catalans). And his funny bone remains intact -- among his ambitions thwarted is an inability to ever order salad when in McDonald's.

With a lengthy intro that recalls (the soon-to-be defunct) LCD Soundsystem and a vocal style not a million miles from David Byrne, Four-Minute Mile is a delight.

However, despite Noonan's Byrne-like delivery, this album is less slavishly in thrall to Talking Heads than previous Bell X1 releases. Glitchy Radiohead-lite electronica appears here and there (most apparent on the delicate, slow-burning opener, Hey Anna Lena), but for the most part this is a comparatively straight-up rock-pop album, largely devoid of studio bells and whistles. In short, a triumph.

Burn it: Sugar High; Four-Minute Mile; The Nightwatchmen

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