Blue Lights On the Runway

Producing an album is a lot like creating a great recipe. Too much of one element can overwhelm the rest of the ingredients. Bell X1’s last album, Flock, was a critically acclaimed success thanks in part to the hit single “Rocky Took A Lover.” Despite its accomplishments I was unmoved by the shellacked production that encased the songs, the lyrics, the vocals, and instrumentation in heavy layers of electronics and overdubbing. It wasn’t until Paul Noonan and Dave Geraghty performed an acoustic set at WYEP that I was won over. These guys had written strong songs that soared on Noonan’s gorgeous vocals. Who would have guessed?

The band’s follow-up, Blue Lights on the Runway, features lots of poppy production, digitized drumming and synthesizers; the difference is the band is more adept at letting vocals rise above the flow. Recently there has been a resurgence of 1980’s styled pop music - check out Keane and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs new releases – and this one falls into that realm. At first listen the album’s single “The Great Defector” sounds like a lost Talking Heads track, including the stream-of-conscience (or is it Dadaist) lyrics that jumps from one set of imagery to another. In any case it’s infectiously danceable, as is the opening track “The Ribs Of a Broken Umbrella.”

It’s inevitable that Bell X1 will garner comparisons to Coldplay (who garner comparison to U2). “How Your Heart Is Wired” has that heart-swollen yearning that comprises much of Chris Martin’s repertoire. “Blows In,” a lovely piano accented ballad, sounds almost country-tinted and offers Noonan at his crooning best. Songs on which his vocals take center stage are the album’s best, as they tend to be melody based and production is mostly toned down. “Amelia” and “Light Catches Your Face” are fine examples of this.

The quartet writes as a unit and their strength is their ear for melody. Often the lyrics are clunky and a little embarrassing; however, these Irish lads seem open to learning as indicated by the song “Better Band,” although, here again, the lyrics are open to interpretation. One ingredient at a time – great lead vocals, catchy melodies …. The best is yet to come.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix Host)