Clock Opera Ways To Forget(Island) Buy it from Insound
On approaching Clock Opera, the thing that you have to get past is that name. Being a pun built on top of another pun it's one of those monikers that's amusing the first time you hear it and considerably less so with each subsequent mention, much like The Beatles (or their barbershop equivalent, The Be Sharps).
But while the first instinct might be to write it off as a joke that they're unfortunately now stuck with, it could, with a bit of effort, be extrapolated to sum up the band and their both their charms and faults, with the first part reflecting the clockwork-like structures that form their songs, and the opera being... well... frontman/founder member Guy Connelly's tendency to lay the emotion on a bit thick, to the extent that it doesn't really mean much at all. Much like the automaton from Scorsese's Hugo, Clock Opera are an intricate machine composed of masterfully crafted parts, but with a human face that comes across as a bit blank.
That's not to say that they don't try though. If anything they try way too hard - opening track Once And For All features the fairly massive statement that "There is no once and for all" treated as a euphoric sing-along moment, it's of a level of (slightly wet) bluster that recalls Coldplay at their most stadium-manipulatively effective, and is, to be honest, a bit too much of a dramatic (or desperate, if we're being less charitable) statement for an opening track. The band have claimed that their lyrics are created by the Dadaist technique of cut-up writing, which might explain why they mostly don't seem to mean much, but that doesn't stop them from feeling unremarkable and overly familiar. Far more fun is to be had from ignoring the message (or lack of such) and concentrating on the grinding cogs of the machinery in the background, such as in the driving bassline of Lesson No. 7, suggesting that Clock Opera owe a significant debt to New Order (although, to be honest, so does every group of skinny white boys who try to appeal to both the indie and dance music crowds), or White Noise, which vocally may even be a bit sub-Coldplay (if anything it sounds like the long-forgotten, but apparently still around, Embrace), but musically nods towards the more abrasive end of electronica.
However, at their best, Clock Opera manage to pull these opposing threads together, creating both an all-important USP to mark themselves out as something other than landfill indie, and some spectacularly entertaining music too. (Very) Recent single Man Made kicks off with a swoon of treated guitar and comes with a uncharacteristically ballsy chorus - its impassioned "I want to show you how much I've left to lose" may even inspire a few bold romantic gestures from wallflowers at indie nights; A Piece Of String is still as jangingly pretty, and obscure, as it was on first release a couple of years ago; and The Lost Buoys' romantic retro-styled falsetto travelogue is what Metronomy promised last year with The English Riveria but didn't exactly deliver on (I appreciate that I'm probably in a minority with that opinion, but it's still a downright luscious song anyway). Elsewhere the call-and-response vocal patterns, such as in Fail Better's slow-build bring back fond memories of The Futureheads at their rag-tag best and besides, every track has something interesting going on - even obligatory slow number Belongings merits closer inspection with its clipped, looping piano part and fuzzed-up coda.
So after a fairly extended period of quiet hype (even/especially here on noripcord), Clock Opera have delivered a debut which, just about, delivers. Hopefully though, when it comes to album number two they'll show us a bit less sweet, and a bit more teeth.24 April, 2012 - 04:23 — Mark Davison