My first extended exposure to Bell X1 came in 2008 when a pared-down version of the band played a short, impromptu acoustic set opening for pal and fellow Irishman Glen Hansard’s band the Swell Season. It was just guitar and piano, but the duo won over the crowd — myself included. It was pretty. It was quirky.
After delving into Bell X1’s albums, though, I began cherry-picking songs from the uneven catalog for a Best of Bell X1 playlist. The band — one of the biggest in Ireland — has managed to include at least a few superb songs on each release, and Bloodless Coup is no different.
Bell X1 is still pretty, still quirky; the band demands comparisons to Coldplay as much as Talking Heads. Like the former, Bell X1 packs its rafter-reaching choruses with sweeping statements. But singer Paul Noonan backfills the rest of his songs with Polaroids of the mundane. On Bloodless Coup, Noonan and his characters eat sandwiches and salads, clack on computers and roll their trousers.
When it works, it’s sublime. “Velcro,” for instance, finds Noonan promising to be our Velcro as he longs for real connections in an overly connected world: “Watching a 6-year-old on YouTube/ Playing drums to ‘Billie Jean’/ This is the stuff that binds us/ This and all those Dairy Queens.” It’s so brain-implanting and single-worthy that even Clear Channel purveyors would be crazy to resist, yet it’s offbeat enough that more discriminating gatekeepers could latch onto it.
“Nightwatchman,” “Trailing Skirts of God,” and “Hey Anna Lena” (the most experimental of the bunch) similarly find the Bell X1 sweet spot. The frequent Irish-isms (“welly tans,” “smartarse”) are endearing, too.
Other songs, though, fall prey to the band’s ever-present pitfalls: “pretty” becomes “syrupy,” or, even worse, “boring.” And at times Noonan makes those everyday observations sound terribly overwrought. Bell X1’s electro-pop sections also have the tendency to come off borderline masturbatory (see “Sugar High,” “Safer than Love”). Noonan hasn’t yet mastered the art of programming.
I still prefer Bell X1 with just an acoustic guitar and piano, but Bloodless Coup is, at the least, guaranteed to grow your Best of Bell X1 playlist.