Follow this link for Andy Bell’s ‘Flicker’ and Live4ever’s Best Albums Of 2022 in full.
Despite today’s world of pro-tools, curated playlists and music camps (no, we didn’t know they were a thing either until Stormzy brought them up), there’s still no scientific formula to writing a classic.
Songs can emerge in an instant as if from thin air in the studio; some can be years in the making. Recording sessions can be tortuous ones with no discernable end in sight; others over in just days and a series of nailed one-takes.
Flicker – the 2022 solo LP from Andy Bell and Live4ever’s newly crowned album of the year – sits in a different, less distinct category, with songs direct from the here-and-now flowing along side half-forgotten sketches which stretch back years. A ‘dual reality’, as the Ride and Oasis guitarist describes it, ‘existing in the past and existing now’.
“Some of it is truly brand new but it’s all woven around this skeleton of backbeats and chord structures that I’ve been working on for years and years,” Bell explains during an exclusive interview with Live4ever.
“It spun me out totally working on it. I wasn’t sure if it was any good because all these ideas have been part of me for such a long time.”
“Riffs like Cherry Cola, Lifeline, Love Is The Frequency…if you have spent time with me over the years you might have heard me absent-mindedly playing these while sitting around the kitchen or something. They are like part of the furniture in my head, and now I’ve had this big renovation, the inside of my head is looking very clear and minimalist now.”
The ambition to bring all these disparate parts together on a double album was, eventually, more of a conscious decision however.
It became the framework from which Flicker was built, sparked by nothing more than a comment made in passing over a drink with Nat Cramp of Sonic Cathedral, some friendly encouragement all Bell needed to begin the pursuit of this exciting proposition.
“On the day The View From Halfway Down came out, me and Nat Cramp went to the pub,” Bell tells us. “We were chatting about the release and what might be next and I mentioned to him that there was loads more material from the sessions I recorded with Gem (Archer) in 2016.”
“I remember saying to Nat, ‘There’s probably even enough for a double album’. I wasn’t being totally serious, like, I didn’t know exactly how much I had, but he was like, ‘Let’s do it’, which spurred me on.”
So I started getting in there, so to speak. It had a vibe, much much more folky than the first album, more ‘real songs’ going on. But it had its own thing, and I was quickly able to see it hanging together nicely, even when it was still just half done. But I didn’t want to be going back a third time to use this material.
“So it was like, anything from these sessions that is worth working on, make it part of this, and then move on, the next record will be all new.”
The results are striking. 18 songs covering pop psychedelia, baroque, folk, country; moods at times reflective, at others melancholic, underpinned by sapient discussions with his teenage self assembled on decades of accumulated experience.
That all these various qualities exist in such harmony is perhaps Flicker’s greatest asset, a strength of character which unavoidably brings to mind some of classic rock’s true touchstones, not least of which The Beatles’ double album opus, their self-titled White Album.
“The White Album is one of my favourite records so that’s a huge compliment,” Bell reflects.
“There is something about Flicker that echoes a bit of The White Album energy: it’s lo fi and folky, and to me it sounds ‘monochrome’ in the same way. That’s true of Revolver too. The black and white sleeve for Flicker is not an accident, it reflects how the music feels to me.”
“Another double album that I really like is Paul Weller 22 Dreams, it’s my favourite of his. But really Flicker is not inspired by anything outside of its own universe. It was defined by the music I’d made around the edges of the hole left by The View From Halfway Down.”
Flicker has had the seal of approval from contemporaries too, exemplified by I Am A Strange Loop – one part of a series of accompanying, alternate take EPs which have followed its original release in the February of this year.
David Holmes, A Place To Bury Strangers and Maps were some of those to put their stamp on select tracks from the record, but whilst there’s inspiration to be taken from what others have found in these songs, Bell promises to be back in his world when it comes to writing again.
“I don’t think it affects my songwriting exactly,” he tells Live4ever. “I love hearing what my pals feel like doing with the tracks though. I feel like everyone really took trouble over what they did and I felt like they ‘got it’ with each one, which is good.”
“Imagine getting a remix back from a good mate and it’s just not working for you. That would be awkward! But yeah I loved what everyone did. It’s a lovely record. It inspires me, it makes me appreciate their music in a new way too.”
There’s also been time set aside for the GLOK alter-ego, giving Bell a chance to return the artistic favour, such as on his evocative, house electronica vision of The Asteroid No.4’s Set Your Sights single.
Another impressive part of a prolific year came via his contribution, along with Yard Act and Joe Goddard, to Warmduscher’s own remix EP of their 2022 record At The Hotspot, in the process displaying an eye for new and alternative music which remains as keen as ever.
“Warmduscher are great and I loved working on their track,” Bell says. “Best live band I saw this year was Fontaines D.C., they blew me away at Glastonbury. Although we played with Goat the other night in Berlin and that was very very special. They are incredible live as well.”
“I also love Khruangbin, Big Joanie, Bdrmm, Afflecks Palace, Pastel, Beabadoobee, Haai, Fantastic Twins, Kara-Lis Coverdale, Anastasia Zems, Whitelands. There’s loads of music I like.”
At the time of writing, Ride are on tour down in Australasia and will end the year with gigs in Greece and Paris later this month. Their reunion has reached a significant (albeit delayed for the obligatory obvious reasons) milestone for Nowhere, its 30th anniversary a chance to reflect on a much more dyed-in-the-wool classic, on the people they were when it was originally released and the youthful naivety which can only be captured in a debut album.
It became an immediate big player in the for-better-or-worse shoegaze scene of the early nineties, then a hallmark of Creation before the second major player in Bell’s life, Oasis, came along and dramatically changed that label’s raison d’être forever.
But if there’s any conflict to be found in this kind of nostalgia which the Nowhere30 tour has inspired and in the here and now of Flicker, it’s far from one being felt by Andy Bell.
“They have something in common, which is that they are both looking back to the past, from 2022,” Bell explains.
“We’ve been in Nowhere world all year really. This Nowhere tour was scheduled to happen in 2020. It all got pushed back due to COVID and maybe – and you’ve just made me think of this – maybe that’s why I’ve been in the mood to go back to the past with Flicker as well.”
“It’s been a bit like having regression therapy or something, going back to an album you made at 19 and living inside it again at the age of 52.”
Nowhere has a weird track order, very strange to do a gig of it, starts off at 100mph and then after 10 minutes drops to a standstill for ages. But it’s the kind of thing you don’t think twice about when you’re 19, which is why it’s worth celebrating now, in a way.
Once Ride complete their touring duties for the year in Paris it’ll be a traditional family Christmas in the Bell household, and there’s an equally relaxed outlook professionally for 2023; more projects on the go, more work with Ride, perhaps more surprises. “I will go with the flow of it all,” Bell says, “I enjoy it so why not?”
2023 could also bring another surprise that’s been slowly building up during the past few months. Something most people were expecting to gradually fade away. A dream that’s getting a little bit closer to reality with every week that passes – Arsenal’s tilt at the Premier League title. Can they win it? Andy’s got a pertinent phrase to sum it up:
To be in with a chance of winning a signed vinyl copy of Flicker, let us know your favourite album of 2022 by leaving a comment below. The winner will be notified after entries close on December 8th at 7am (EST).