The first thing one notices about Andy Bell‘s new solo album is its size; 18 songs spanning 76 minutes! Typically, the pop/rock world is obsessed with the idea of pruning their releases down for an all-killer-no-filler attitude, but Flicker embraces the “White Album” aesthetic by giving you the most bang for your buck. The second thing that one notices is that the musical style is not all that surprising, at least on the first listen. Flicker is the sound of a musician known primarily in shoegaze/Britpop circles who decided to make a singer-songwriter album. The subtle blend of these approaches won’t catch anyone off-guard.
What truly stands out is how Flicker manages to blend the fresh with the familiar, nostalgia with the future. That wasn’t by accident. Bell says that some of the ideas on Flicker date back to the 1990s and that any lyrical re-tooling that took place was him “exchanging ideas with [his] younger self”. So if you hear 21st-century anxiety set to shades of early Ride, it’s to be expected. You don’t have to be tuned in to these combinations to enjoy Flicker, though. If you want to digest these 18 songs at face value, you’re certainly not going to miss out on anything.
Two of these tracks are experimentations rather than songs. Remember those backward tracks the Stone Roses used to release, like “Guernica”, “Full Fathom Five”, and “Don’t Stop?” Well, Andy Bell does it twice on Flicker. The first one, “The Sky Without You”, begins the album, and the other, “The Looking Glass”, starts the second half. And just like the Stone Roses, they still sound like bright and sunny pop songs when played backward, only with lots of vocal echoes. Even if you are looking at 16 “proper” tracks, that’s still a wealth of material.
So, apart from a backward song that starts the album, where do we begin? The single “Something Like Love” is a good place. There aren’t any drums, but there’s plenty of clean guitar strumming, soft keyboard settings, and perfect vocal harmonies to serve as Bell’s soundtrack for therapy. “You should never wish your time away,” he warns, an echo of his earlier reminder that “life’s too short, so don’t waste your time” from the even keel driving drone of “It Gets Easier”.
Finding standout tracks is easy on Flicker because it’s full of them. If you want an instrumental in the vein of a moderate Lee Mavers stomp, you’ve got “Gyre and Gimble”. Need an instrumental with a shuffling beat and a melodic saxophone? For that, you’ve got “When the Lights Go Down”. “Jenny Holzer B. Goode” scratches the bedroom shoegaze itch while “World of Echo” opens it up for the club. If you genuinely miss Bell’s contributions to Hurricane #1 or Oasis, the guitar-drenched noise funk of “Riverside” will satisfy you. Or if you just want to bliss out in the noise, try “No Getting Out Alive”.
Flicker is also Bell’s chance to show off his acoustic side. Rather than sounding like Ride leftovers that are now performed on the acoustic guitar, “We All Fall Down” and “Holiday in the Sun” (not a Sex Pistols cover) sound like they were written that way from the start. “Lifeline” is a prime example of a song that uses the steel string as its bed but doesn’t necessarily rely on it for its identity – even with a “Mother Nature’s Son” fingerstyle introduction. Like Bell’s unassuming voice, all of those delicately plucked and strummed guitar parts feed into the album’s textural appeal.
If anyone ever tries to sell you on the less-is-more idea, especially if they feel that this approach is the best for everything all the time, just point them to Flicker. It may take a while for them to thank you. I mean, there are 18 songs here; it will take them a while to absorb them all equally. When Flicker comes to full bloom, they just might understand that sometimes more just means more of the good stuff. There is strength in numbers, and Andy Bell’s rise to the double album challenge is as strong as anything that carries the Ride name.