Bell X1: Bloodless Coup

[5 June 2011]

By Enio Chiola

It’s pretty safe to conclude at this point that remaining members of Juniper (now known as Bell X1) have emerged out of the shadows of “that band that Damien Rice used to be in.”  Probably because Damien Rice’s own solo career has taken a nose dive into obscurity—his last album was 9 back in 2006.  That’s not to say that Bell X1 has made a monumental name for themselves.  Instead, those that gave them a chance based on their past affiliation with Rice have stuck around based on the merits of the band’s own music.  Kind of like Courtney Love, well…sort of.

I have to admit, I’m not a huge fan of Bell X1.  Like many before me, I discovered them through a loose connection between some vague or nondescript movie soundtrack, and although I enjoyed that one song (I can no longer recall), they failed to impact my musical perceptions in any significant way.  2011’s Bloodless Coup does the same.  The problem with Bell X1 isn’t that they’re boring, but rather unmemorable.  They don’t completely repel the ear in the way that Snow Patrol or Keane does, but they also don’t possess that spicy nugget of what the French call “I don’t know what.”  They are a music by numbers fair that occasionally achieves glimpses of wonderfulness, but to listen to a full length album more than one or two times can become monotonously boring endeavour.  They are a singles band at best.

With Bloodless Coup the band has tapped into the increasing popularity of infusing electro influences into the mix.  The electro is in full swing with the stellar opening number “Hey Anna Lena”, a confusing little number.  The electro, however, is almost completely absent in the ridiculous lead single “Velcro”, which effectively sums up the banality that band is finding impossible to overcome.  In it, lead singer Paul Noonan sings about the woes of youth and how they “jones” for WiFi to steal TV shows—I know, there is actually a song about this now. 

The biggest problem is it’s almost completely incomprehensible.  Have a gander at the second verse of “Velcro”:

Now we’re clacking at computers
In the sickly light they throw
All jonesing for WiFi
So we can steal more TV shows
Watching a six year old on YouTube
Playing drums to “Billie Jean”
This is the stuff that binds us
This and all those Dairy Queens

After professing that he’ll be your Velcro, Noonan continues with:

Heading home, airport screening
The man has his rubber gloves on
He says there’s explosive residue
On the strings of my guitar
Well, that’ll be six weeks of sweat now
In a pop/rock combo
Why don’t you come and join us
You can take all the solos

It sounds like each line is made up as they go along without any consideration for the one before it, with Noonan simply taking snippets from his boring life to sing about in this boring song.

The album drones on in typical male-fronted pop/rock fashion with songs about girls to be saved or partying to be had.  Occasionally, the band manages to write beyond their reach, but this happens only occasionally.  “Nightwatchmen” is slightly better, but the missed electro disaster “Sugar High” drags the album back down to the low it saw with “Velcro”.  “Sugar High” feels like a tepid attempt to bring the electro theme established with the superior opener “Hey Anna Lena” back to the forefront, as if to say “Hey, this album is sooooooo electro…just listen!” 

The rest of the album continues with few surprises, but some nice moments.  Tracks such as “Built to Last”, “Safer Than Love”, the aforementioned “Hey Anna Lena”, and the quite moving album closer “Amsterdam Says” manage to elevate this album above the typical heart-drenching acoustic rock fare, while maintaining its commitment to the electro theme.  However, there isn’t enough of these tracks to sustain an 11 song album, and with blatant Simple Minds ripoffs like “4 Minute Mile”, where Noonan sings the words Geraghty wrote “I’ll never eat a salad at McDonald’s / Or heed the call to monetize the arts”, the album is just not as good as it hopes to be.

Ultimately, Bell X1 only occasionally hit modest highs with Bloodless Coup, but it’s the vast lows that make them tough to swallow.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/140617-bell-x1-bloodless-coup/