Plumbiferous Media

Blue Lights on the Runway – Bell X1

Mar 5th 2009
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Blue Lights on the Runway - Bell X1Bell X1
Blue Lights on the Runway
Score: 77

Bell X1, which hails from Ireland, made a UK and US release of its fourth studio album, Blue Lights on the Runway a few days ago; however, in the space between its Irish release and now, it has already peaked at #1 on the Irish Albums Chart. There seems to be a pattern here with Bell X1: large recognition in Ireland, little outside. But Bell X1 has produced a very strong album, and we all hope that this pattern changes.

Bell X1’s instrumentals are, quite simply, well designed. Most noticeable are the quite amazing drums, which are mixed very prominently, yet never overwhelm the calm and light sound, as Tim O’Donovan very carefully softens each hit to fit perfectly (see “How Your Heart Is Wired”). Next apparent are the interesting, pulsating effects, which provide a quality very beneficial to the album as a whole. Everything remains very, very simple, but it never becomes boring, as the chords and cadences used are, for lack of a better descriptor, unconventional. The combination of instruments, synth, and distorted or blended backing vocals as a whole then works remarkably well, as it provides clear support for the fitting, but unique voice of Paul Noonan.

Noonan’s delicate, almost country-accented vocals serve to tell the complex, metaphor-laden stories of Blue Lights on the Runway in a way which not only holds the listener’s attention but which makes the music truly special. His vocals effortlessly intertwine with the music in an expert manner. The only thing keeping the vocals from being excellent is their subdued quality throughout the album – doubtlessly an intentional quality of the album, and yet one which deprives Bell X1 of the full benefit of their talented lead singer.

With Blue Lights on the Runway, Bell X1 switches between telling emotional, nuanced stories filled with vivid images such as the “ribs of a broken umbrella” from the track of that name. Bell X1 uses these stories to create entertaining, introspective stories, and yet manage to avoid pulling the album into stagnation by interlacing this sort of storytelling with instrumental sections (“Amelia”) and catchier, more indeterminate writing which is nevertheless very well done (“The Great Defector”). The single lyrical complaint about Blue Lights on the Runway would perhaps be in an occasional overreliance on repetition. The image of the broken umbrella “sticking out of a bin” does eventually get old, but it’s a testament to Bell X1’s skill that that point isn’t until the very end of the track.

All the elements of the album fit together extremely well, but the album is not without flaws. While even the rather long tracks somehow just manage to support themselves for the entire duration, despite the obvious amount of repetition, one cannot help but wish Bell X1 had gone for a higher number of tracks, rather than a higher average track length, which might have helped with the largest problem. While no two tracks are overly similar, no track deviates significantly from any other, and one ends up feeling like the album misses any sense of experimentation. While the tracks may be very strong, the album is by no means adventurous.

In Blue Lights on the Runway, Bell X1 has not only produced a very good fourth album, but a well-crafted combination of lyrical tales told beautifully, a varied, careful instrumental backing, topped off by excellent production values. The album could have benefited from more prominent vocals and perhaps a bit less repetition – but even with these issues, Bell X1 has done very well with Blue Lights on the Runway.

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