Album: Blue Lights on the Runway
Artist: Bell x1
Bell x1 are an odd bunch. Able to produce Grey’s Anatomy/The OC-worthy love songs as well as off-the-wall upbeat tunes, the Kildare men have gone from strength to commercial strength.
Blue Lights on the Runway does not lack the quirky essence that fans have loved since the band’s captivating debut Neither Am I. The retro synths and cheerful handclaps of ‘The Ribs of a Broken Umbrella’ hint at a return to form after the easily-forgotten Flock. ‘The Great Defector’, which has already hit the airwaves with its video game keyboards and bizarre lyrics, is even chirpier.
There are slow numbers a-plenty to be had too; ‘How Your Heart’ is laidback and lengthy but worth a proper listen. ‘Blow Ins’ might not jump up and down for attention and ‘Amelia’ drags on a minute or three too long but ‘Light Catches Your Face’ is perfect end-of-album fare. A simple piano and acoustic number; it puts Paul Noonan’s gentle and sometimes almost falsetto vocals to ideal use.
We get a too brief and unimaginative glimpse at Bell x1’s old rock potential with ‘Breastfed’, but the New Orleans brass section featured on ‘The Curtains are Twitchin’’ adds an original twist to the band’s staple indie style.
Blue Lights on the Runway might not garner new interest from those who never took to Bell x1 in the first place, but fans should be satisfied that they haven’t lost their touch.
In a Nutshell: After a bumpy landing last time, Bell x1 is ready to take off again.
Album: Which Bitch?
Artist: The View
Which Bitch? is the follow up to the Mercury prize nominated Hats Off to the Buskers from The View. The Dundee band, with their informal style of indie and honest singing in the vernacular of their Scottish accents, seem to play without inflated egos from previous success.
Which Bitch? however, although a pleasantly crafted slice of pop rock, is unremarkable. Even though the tracks have a likeable capability, uncomplicated with layers of strings and piano which add a sense of gravitas, they are forgettable.
First single ‘5Rebeccas’ received little airplay upon release and failed to chart in either the UK or Ireland, and this is understandable. While their biggest hit ‘Same Jeans’ was infectiously and irritatingly memorable, very little stands out on this album.
Perhaps in order not to rely solely on the drum and guitar sounds of the typical indie band, there are some moments that try to be different, ‘Glass Smash’ in particular. Strings reminiscent of Bernard Hermann’s Psycho meet a brisk beat, contrasted with lead singer Kyle Falconer’s regular lyrics and vocals, providing the most interesting track on the album.
The greatest disappointment is that the best tracks on Which Bitch? are the album tracks that won’t stand as single material. Second single ‘Shock Horror’ fails in the same way that ‘5Rebeccas’ does – not by being particularly offensive to the ear, but by just not being anything to shout about either.
In a nutshell: It would be a lot easier to dismiss if it was instantly dislikeable, but it’s not.
Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Album: Working on a Dream
WORKING ON A DREAM is Bruce Springsteen’s sixteenth studio album and this fact is all too discernible from the album’s jaded sound. From the opening strings of ‘Outlaw Pete’ to the final faint piano keys on ‘The Wrestler’, this album is markedly unadventurous.
‘Outlaw Pete’ contains all the pomp and grandeur commonly associated with Springsteen’s music. Furious strings and wholehearted crescendos are coupled with lyrics evoking a mythical vigilante. Nevertheless, at eight minutes long, the track is mercilessly overwrought and feels more tiresome than inspired.
For the remainder of the album, Springsteen remains on auto-pilot, as he sticks to a painfully predictable verse-chorus-verse format.
Those hoping for politically insightful lyrics in light of the drama provided by the last few months will be sorely disappointed. ‘Baby you’re my lucky day’, ‘Let me show you what love can do’ and ‘You felt so good to me baby’, are indicative of the kind of bland and interchangeable lyrics which The Boss perpetually reverts to in this offering.
Notwithstanding its glaring inadequacies, Working on a Dream occasionally provides listeners with moments to savour. ‘This Life’ contains some nice Beach Boys indebted mannerisms and ‘The Wrestler’ justifiably won a Golden Globe for its use in the film of the same name.
Yet such fitful inspiration serves only to exacerbate the listeners’ frustration and never does Springsteen approach the level of ambition and soulfulness displayed during his Darkness on the Edge of Town days.
In a nutshell: Devoid of originality.
Artist: Franz Ferdinand
ALEX KAPRANOS and friends are back with their third album, a hybrid of techno-pop, indie romance, alternative and art rock and dash of post-punk. It’s fair to assume that this could be a monstrosity and it almost is, but somehow these Scotsmen have at least managed to escape conformity with Tonight, which boasts a number of songs striving to break the mould.
The electro-funk ‘Ulysses’ and the seductive, cash-register chiming ‘No You Girls’ see Franz Ferdinand attempting to hold onto the chanting, military style repetitiveness which made them famous but stepping away from their dependency on the bass.
There are welcome changes to the band’s previous musical exploits. ‘Lucid Dreams’ sounds more like the offspring of Nineties’ Radiohead and the re-invented The Verve than the Glaswegians themselves.
Kapranos’ voice can be appreciated for what it truly is in the aptly titled ‘Dream Again’; his gentle Beck-meets-Eels tone floats over a dreamlike acoustic and harrowing keyboard melody with undertones of Air, resulting in a calming song that reminds you of the feeling of being pleasantly tired.
The gem of the album is the final track, ‘Katherine Kiss Me’, an acoustic and piano love song that certainly owes something to Noah and The Whale and should be listened to while in the company of your special someone.
Overall, this is a varied album but it is sadly more the regurgitations of other musicians’ styles than the band’s itself
In a Nutshell: Relying too much on external influences, the band has lost its own identity.
Stephanie Wallace Chavanne
Album: The Fray (2009)
Artist: The Fray
SINCE ‘HOW TO SAVE A LIFE’, it is as if the Fray simply recognised a formula that worked for them and stuck to it. Whiny voice? Check. Lack of suspense and monotonous structure? Check. Lyrics consistently about ‘you’ and God? Double-check.
The band’s biggest downfall is their blatant gloom. Someone must have enjoyed listening to Isaac Slade’s sullen discourse of misery; this is why their last single was huge. However this is not something you can get away with ten times in one album because its initial originality and spark has ceased to be.
Every number has the same basic premise: they all start out with a short introduction played on either guitar or piano, followed by a sore-throated soft voice limping in and ‘singing’ (also known as dialogue). After a whole verse of this mild and punitive dribble, the band burst into a shouting frenzy, inaccurately described as the chorus. This process goes on two or three times until the track ends.
The only song that stands out is ‘Where The Story Ends’, because it owns a more upbeat tempo and is slightly more merry. The melodies of ‘Absolute’ and ‘Ungodly Hour’ are undoubtedly the best on the album, but are scarce compensation for its overall blandness.
Generally, this album would be appreciated by fans of their last, it will not provoke any new interest in the band.
In a nutshell: Exactly the same as their last album, no departure from their customised style.