In 1989, the Trouser Press Record Guide described the album as "a stylized set of dreamscapes and consciousness streams… It's arguably Wire's most ruminative album, and while immersion in it won't, as 'Silk Skin Paws' suggests, 'wring your senses' – that's more a job for Chairs Missing – it will twirl your lobes a time or two.". However, in a later edition, Trouser Press held a more critical view, writing "Wire stayed the dance-pop course with diminishing results on A Bell Is a Cup."
At the time of the album's release, Wire faced accusations that they had abandoned their earlier rough-edged sound for a softer, more refined style.Graham Lewis dismissed such criticism:
This is a fallacy… When [Wire's early albums] were released, they were considered more polished than other records at the time. Every record that's been made, the same criticism of being less abrasive has been levelled at it. The abrasion is actually in the content – both lyrics and sound.
Allmusic gave the album a laudatory review, describing the record as "arguably Wire's best album and certainly its most accessible… a work of modern rock genius."