Bell X1 - Arms - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Bell X1 - Arms

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2017-07-21

No Irish rock band will ever top the wonderful Horslips. I just needed to say that.

But these guys are pretty good. And they are immensely popular in their Celtic homeland. Their records top the charts. So, to quote Pink Floyd (another immensely popular band) “wot’s…uh the deal.” It’s quite simple: This is just nicely done pop music that really doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what the band wants it to be. It’s an intimate and heartfelt album. The first track, “Fail Again, Fail Better,” is a pleasant clever tune that does rekindle the sound of a soulful David Byrne and those Talking Heads. It’s not too far from Field Music’s Commontime, which is one of the better albums I heard this year.   

Now, the beautiful “Take Your Sweet Time,” in all its seven minute plus glory, does pretty much what the title suggests, for minute or two past the point of interest. For some reason, latter day Fleetwood Mac comes to mind. It’s not offensive. It’s just that it’s really not offensive and, perhaps it should be. I once bought a brand new pair of pants that looked just like my old pants. They were nice pants. But nobody noticed. It’s something like that. Band member Paul Noonan said, “We seek out the comfort of the familiar and the familial.” So there you go.

I suppose it’s a bit ironic the band’s name comes from the rocket plane that first broke the sound barrier.

“Fake Memory” has a vocal that sounds like Roger Daltry in the introspective part of “Behind Blue Eyes.”  Bell X1 is quite the vocal band. Steely Dan and China Crisis come to mind. I also am reminded of latter-day Barclay James Harvest, after they ditched their prog orchestral “Poor Man’s Moody Blues” epics and made a few decent pop rock records. The up-tempo “I Go Where I Go” is just tuneful pop rock music. The same is true for the soulful “The Upswing,” another extremely pleasant song with an almost Paul McCartney vocal, that bares the pulse of the band. This album slowly bleeds into its grooves. This is certainly their intent. And they do it well.

That got me to thinking. Who buys this music? It’s not a television sell job like any form The Universe Has Talented Singers. But it’s not the stuff of approving nods in underground coffee shops. It’s just music that never really goes beyond any familiar orbit. This is No Man’s Land music in our time of polarized headphones. So, in a way, it’s great that they make the music they desire, sell a ton of albums, and keep the few record stores we still have alive.

“Sons and Daughters” continues with the nice vocals and the catchy chorus with a prominent piano, which has replaced some of the electronics of previous albums. I really like this song. If it’s true that the devil is in the details, then Beelzebub is a busy guy because this song is filled with all sorts of quirky and clever sounds. And really, the same can be said about the entire record.

 Years ago, I listened to The Grass Roots, a pop band, and loved their music. I adored all those Creedence singles. Cheap Trick played in my Midwestern home town before they were famous. And I really like this album’s song “Bring Me the Fire King.” It’s urgent pop music that just happens to be an album cut. My friend, Kilda Defnut, created her own religion that is based on dogs, books, and music. Her Sacred Maxim XXI states: “Even Sisyphus needs a vacation from pushing that rock up the hill every once in a while.” This music is all about that idea. It’s wonderful to listen to the extreme and demanding music and get the synapses buzzing in the brain. One of my favorite records Is King Crimson’s Lizard. What was that: A medieval crossword puzzle with an odd jazz soundtrack? This record isn’t that at all. There isn’t much a rock to push anywhere. It doesn’t require much effort. But it is really good music. It’s extremely addictive. Yeah, it’s a bit of a vacation.  But to be fair to the band, it’s a lengthy holiday because, even citing its fewer than forty minutes, the album slowly reveals its many charms through repeated plays. I also like “Out of Love” with its nice (and I risk losing reviewer points for a second Fleetwood Mac reference) early Peter Green soulful vocal with an almost bluesy vibe.There is so much beautiful space between the instruments. It’s a warm and soulful space. And this one manages to rock a bit. Although, it should be noted, no sound barriers were injured in any way during the process of making this record.

A confession: I stopped pushing that round object called Metal Machine Music up any hill a long time ago, and I’m all right with it staying where it is in the valley floor. That record can remain there.

 I may not think much of this album in a year or two, but I like it right now in the moment.

“The Coalface” is the climactic moment. In some ways, it sounds a little like Paul Simon.  The song ends with a bit of drama, in a pop rock sort of way. The piano, once again, adds a decent depth to the music. And that’s the gist of this record. It’s a nice listen. It’s a clever listen. It’s a pop music listen. That was, at least when I was young, good enough. And as my friend, Kilda Defut, stated in her equally important Sacred Maxim XIV: “The songs of our youth will always be the music of our lives; and conversely, the music of our lives will always be the songs of our youth.” So, sure, this is good enough for me, even after all these grey years. 

But, ultimately, these guys are immensely popular, and considering the state of our musical industrial complex, that’s not a bad thing.  And, in the end, at least for that popular market place, this album’s a pretty good life, or for that matter, youth preserver.



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