Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bell X1: Flock - Review

Popping seven bucks, grabbing a couple of friends, donning some stunningly sexy oversized plastic polarized sunglasses, and taking in ninety minutes-plus of the new U2 3D raises damn few questions, and certainly fewer worth any meaningful consideration. Quality sound? Check. Better seats than the Average Joe could afford to an actual U2 show? Check. Fifty-foot version of Bono's goofy-ass racquetball goggles? Check. (Was he also seeing us in 3D?)

Moreover, after consideration of what it took for a little band from Ireland to grow from pub shows to (sometimes gag-inducing) Three-Dimensional World Domination, another question bubbles up: It's been more than 25 years-- where are the other Irish superstars? Over the years, critics have routinely forecast others as iMax-bound: The Pogues, The Waterboys, Hothouse Flowers, The Cranberries, and, more recently, The Frames-- all great bands, some not seeking superstardom, none achieving.  2008's version, however, may have all of the right elements at the right time. Bell X1, from North County Kildare, have released three critically-acclaimed albums in their native Ireland. This week, Yep Rock gives a stateside release to the band's third full-length project, Flock.

Flock sounds at once both very unique and yet like some strange sampler of every other popular stadium rock band of the past ten years. Inspired, but not derivative, Irish folk underpins strong songs that echo, at times, Radiohead ("Reacharound"), Coldplay ("Flame"), and, all over the record, their most obvious kin, The Frames.

Much of the balance comes from the disarmingly comic lyrics that creep out when the mood becomes insufferably heavy.  In "Flame," just as vocalist Paul Noonan challenges the capacity of the cheese-o-meter with "Your flesh melts in my mouth like Holy Communion," he quickly deflates it, funning on Leonard Cohen, "but you don't really care for Jesus, now do you?" As you find yourself joining in on "Flame"'s catchy chorus, you suddenly realize just how un-serious Bell X1 can be, with what sounds like the entire band repeating the silly proclamation, "I wanna be near you and blink in your light, and toast marshmallows on a cold dark night."

"Rocky Took a Lover," an acoustic anthem imagining a conversation between a homeless man and woman falling in love, is the clear candidate for a single (if there is such a thing anymore), with a made-for-stadium-singalong chorus. Again, just as the characters' exchange approaches heavy-handed prose, the woman reflects, "I don't believe in any old Jesus-- If there was a God, then why is my ass the perfect height for kicking?"

By the same token, neither does the periodic giddiness of the lyrics ever dissolve into nonsense or pure novelty. "Bad Skin Day" skips along through a simple drum/acoustic pattern, building into a slow and infectious chant. "Natalie," another slow burner, could easily be mistaken for a Joshua Tree B-Side, punctuated with chiming guitars like the Edge of Old. After an electronic-laden bridge on "Bigger Than Me," a flat-out rocker, Noonan, doing his best David Byrne, shrieks, "Am I a stone? Am I a sponge?", so convincingly that one fully expects him to follow with, "This is not my beautiful wife!"

Flock is not perfect, an observation borne out by the plodding "He Said, She Said" and "My First Born for a Song," the latter introduced with an electric piano riff that sounds as though it was lifted straight from an NPR radio button.  These are mere blemishes, however, as Flock is, at its essence, an ambitious and well-formed project, worthy of repeated plays.  After all, even The Unforgettable Fire had its "Fourth of July."

1 comment:

debbie said...

NANCE - you're famous!!