Galway-bred, London-based The Clockworks were invited by Abbey Road Studios to take part in their Lock-in series, collaborating with Bernard Butler. So successful was the collaboration that Butler went on to produce their debut album ‘Exit Strategy’ which is released independently on their own Life and Times Recordings. The album’s narrative centres on a character who moves from Galway to London in search of meaning, believing the solution lies in changing his surroundings and by attempting to fit in, behaving as someone he is not. The first half of the album is focused on Galway and the second on London.
Opening track ‘Deaths And Entrances’ begins with a beautiful piano section, perhaps surprising for those who are aware of The Clockworks. However it’s the perfect introduction as it provides a platform for the lyrical content which is at the very core of this band. Lyricist James McGregor (vocals and guitar) paints a picture of solitude amongst the crowd. He is a wordsmith and this is evidenced time and time again throughout ‘Exit Strategy’.
“I wandered lonely as the crowd
Turns a darker shade of loud
My brain picks apart and teases over
All I might do wrong
While someone dressed as Jesus
Is wailing Redemption Song”
What to include on a debut album must be a dilemma for many a band, especially if you have released a number of singles over the years. With Butler onboard as producer the decision was made to re-record some of their earlier music. Fans will be delighted to see the inclusion of ‘Enough Is Never Enough’, ‘Feels So Real’, ‘Advertise Me’ but particularly one of their earliest tracks ‘Bills And Pills’ which is second on the album. Fast, tight and with smart snappy lyrics, Butler has nonetheless managed to bring another element, including scuzzier guitars. ‘Mayday, Mayday’ is the track that cemented the musical friendship between The Clockworks and Butler during the Abbey Road Lock-in series. Butler shares that he chose to listen to nothing before the day so he could work instinctively. Thematically the song centres on the financial pressures of modern life, and the struggles and frustrations are portrayed in a soundscape which culminates in a quiet desperation towards the end.
The re-recording of ‘Enough Is Never Enough’ is a highlight with the opening riff of Séan Connelly’s guitar sounding even more raw and charged. “It was a Tuesday and it was bleak”, McGregor captures a world we all recognise with his observational lyrics. Instrumentally this is guitar music, but The Clockworks way. The emotion comes through the music on this track, as well as the vocals. ‘Hall Of Fame’ slows down the pace, providing an introspective view, sharing the struggles of finding oneself, and so often the turn to alcohol to cope. ‘Car Song’ continues with the exquisite story-telling, just listen to those lyrics while ‘Danny’s Working Like A Dog’ is beautifully sung by McGregor. We continue to learn about the album’s protagonist and the struggles to create a better life, but this is all wrapped in a soaring soundscape which is as gut-wrenching as it is poignant.
The beginning of ‘Feels So Real’ is initially stripped back compared to the original recording, but then Butler has brought the drums of Damian Greaney to the forefront. Again the guitar sounds so sharp and more fervent, reverberating throughout the track. The lyric “you’ll never find love until you buy these gloves” speaks to the materialistic world we inhabit. Tom Freeman’s bass adds a depth for the listener to revel in. Similarly on ‘Advertise Me’, that static fuelled energy is there from the very beginning. And the goosebumps inducing guitar solo mid-track is only amplified with Butler’s touch.
‘Modern City Living (All We Are)’ is a highlight on ‘Exit Strategy’. Immediately gripping with its up-tempo pace. The hooks are ear-worms and there is a complexity about this track which moves from loud to quiet and back again. The slightly chaotic midtrack is an utter joy and one what demands listening over and over. ‘Life In A Day’ begins with a sharp intake of breath while ‘Lost In The Moment’ follows with a similar atmosphere. Both are reflective and thought-provoking, yet delivered with an energy which is maintained throughout the album.
‘Exit Strategy’ ends as its began, with the contemplative ‘Westway’, full of emotion and longing all enveloped in gut-wrenching soundscapes.
On ‘Exit Strategy’ The Clockworks decided they wanted to create the world of a film, which they have more than achieved with their story-telling and instrumentation. The lyrics provide a window to society at large. To hear the influence of Butler on previous singles has added a thrilling dimension. An assured debut which will no doubt bring The Clockworks to the attention of a wider audience. ‘Exit Strategy’ is absolutely worth the wait.
Words: Julia Mason
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