Saturday 20 January 2018

Ringing the alarm over recession cuts

Bell X1 comment on the state of the Irish economy
Bell X1 comment on the state of the Irish economy
Chop Chop the new album from Bell X1.
John Meagher

John Meagher

Big Release of the Week: Bell X1 Chop Chop (Belly-Up Records) 4 STARS

Times may be tough in this country right now, but they are certainly interesting. The recession has proved an inspiration for Irish novelists, dramatists, visual artists and filmmakers. Yet, oddly, comparatively few musicians have cast a cold eye over it.

On their last album, Bloodless Coup, Bell X1 rose to the challenge with the outwardly jaunty Sugar High – a song that laid into Fianna Fáil, cronyism culture and the sort of feckless, reckless behaviour that this week's Anglo tapes have so painfully illustrated.

On this, their sixth album, Paul Noonan and friends look at how recession has hurt most of us.

A Thousand Little Downers examines the corrosive effect of pay cuts and stealth taxes and alludes to the Household Charge – "the radio says, we've got to pay up by tonight".

It also paints an evocative picture of high streets pockmarked by vacant shops.

"I can't help thinking of the broken dreams," Noonan sings, "left by a thousand little downers."

It's a track that can take pride of place in the increasingly bulging Bell X1 songbook.

Co-produced by Peter Katis (best known for his long-term work with The National) and Thomas Bartlett (whose recent credits include The Gloaming's album), Chop Chop is, sonically, the most adventurous album the band have yet released.

The songs are imaginatively arranged, brass instruments are used judiciously and a lot of ideas are packed into its 37-minute run-time.

There's beauty to be found in the gorgeous, syncopated opening track, Starlings Over Brighton Pier and in the tender, but troubled ballad, Careful What You Wish For.

Dave Geraghty takes lead vocals on the wistful, piano-led Diorama – a song that, initially at least, sounds like a lost Coldplay number, circa Parachutes. Why he doesn't sing lead more often remains a mystery.

It says something about the trio's gifts that even when they're on shaky ground, they still deliver special moments. Take Motorcades: what sounds just a bit ho-hum on the opening minute or so develops into a song with all the pomp and ambition of Sufjan Stevens at his best.

KEY TRACKS Starlings Over Brighton Pier; Careful What You Wish For; Diorama

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