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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