Album Reviews

Bell X1 – Flock

(Island) UK release date: 20 March 2006

The Irish have always had a knack for picking out an up and coming band. They worshipped David Gray before his wobbly head became globally famous, and The Saw Doctors were megastars over there long before they took a trip down the N17.

Bell X1 are one of the most popular bands across the Irish Sea, yet still remain relatively unknown over here. In a previous incarnation named Juniper, they had Damien Rice amongst their members, but if you’re expecting intense ballads then you could be in for a surprise.

The band’s previous two albums, Neither Am I and Music In Mouth, saw them compared to Coldplay and Travis, but Flock is a massive step forward musically. Paul Noonan’s superb lyrics now have some powerful musical backing, throwing in all kinds of references from disco to funk and good old-fashioned rock.

It’s those lyrics that grab the attention though. Opening track Reacharound sees Noonan talking about “Cute hoors on every corner…putting out, putting out” before managing to give the song a political bent (“We are the babies that they kissed, and ours is the flesh that they pressed”). The song itself is breathless, slightly claustrophobic and a superb opener.

The single Flame continues the mood, being one of the catchiest songs you’ll hear all year. Throwing in hand-claps, a slightly retro-disco beat and more great lyrics (“Your flesh it melts in my mouth, like Holy Communion”),it’s reminiscent of Talking Heads at their most commercial.

The powerful Just Like Mr Benn manages to be the most affecting song ever to reference a classic children’s cartoon series from the ’70s, while the superlative My First Born For A Song mixes in a quirky piano riff which builds throughout the song until the intensity is at boiling point.

Although the band still do tend to slip into generic ‘new Coldplay’ territory (with Natalie and Trampoline being a bit undistinguished when compared to the other tracks on here), you can forgive them anything for the masterful Rocky Took A Lover. A lush, melodic song with a dark side, it deserves to a huge hit. If there’s a lyric as heartfelt and well delivered as “She said ‘I don’t believe in any old Jesus, If there was a God, then why is my arse the perfect height of kicking?'” then I’ve yet to hear it.

The exhilarating He Said She Said reminds one of Radiohead (specifically Hail To The Thief’s 2 + 2 = 5) and features some particularly manic guitar work from Dave Geraghty. The closing epic Lampposts sees Noonan espousing the exact opposite to ‘if you love somebody set them free’ with a dark tale of how “I’ve been walking you into those lamposts again/I’d rather do that than let you of your hand”. At seven minutes it’s a bit too long, but it’s an undeniably powerful closer.

At a time when Bell X1’s profile appears to be raised to new heights (they’ve joined the growing number of bands who’ve been given The O.C. seal of approval) they’ve released their finest single yet. Soon it won’t just be Irish musical fans who’ll be raving about them, it’ll be the whole world.

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More on Bell X1
Bell X1 – Bloodless Coup
Bell X1 – Blue Lights On The Runway
Bell X1 – Flock