I don’t want to say it’s third time lucky for Guy Connelly, but there’s a definite sense that things have fallen into place for him this time around. Before I go any further, though, let’s begin at the beginning. I don’t fully recall how I discovered The Fallout Trust (his first band), but I was still in my formative years back then (the year was 2007) and their album, In Case of the Flood, really struck a chord with me. It was shortly after that that I discovered that the Bristol-based sextet had since lost a member and changed their name to The Corrections. Another album ‘followed’ – as good as Repeat After Me was, record label wrangling and red tape prevented it from getting anything other than a low-key digital release in mid-2008. Fast forward a year, and the band had gone their separate ways, leaving Connelly to strike out on his own with Clock Opera. [Twitter/Facebook]
A debut single was released in November of 2009 (White Noise), and since then, Clock Opera’s star has only risen higher. Somewhere along the way, Connolly’s expanded the solo project into a full band, and brought in Andy West, Che Albrighton and Dan Armstrong. A string of rapturously-received singles has followed White Noise, and they are all present and correct on the album – which, for some, will be ‘half old stuff, half new stuff’ – all benefitting hugely from their new context. Once and For All (reissued as the album’s lead single in January) kicks off Ways to Forget with the kind of skyscraping grandeur that most bands would close an album with. It says a lot about their ambitious streak, something which is confirmed by the immediate move into darker territory with the brooding and intense Lesson No. 7. They don’t want to be pinned down; as soon as you think you’ve got them pigeonholed, the ‘chop-poppers’ go and do something different.
The first of the genuinely new tracks appears in the form of 11th Hour, which works very well when paired with Lesson No. 7; the latter’s political undertones are matched by the mood of defiance in the former’s first section: ‘We are sickened down to our core, and we’re not gonna take this from you anymore’. As it starts to build, the protagonist has made up their mind about what must be done – ‘You’ve got to get mad as hell, you’ve got to go and ring that bell, you’ve got to tell the others’ – before the song achieves liftoff; the tempo doubles and it races towards its finish. An opening run of three songs would be pretty hard for most bands to follow, but Clock Opera are just getting warmed up at this stage.
Next, the band treat us to a straight run of four singles: Man Made is out in a couple of weeks, and is cut from similar cloth as Lesson No. 7, at least in lyrical content. It’s full of questions (‘Won’t you tell me who I should be?’), yet is also unafraid (‘I want to show you how much I’ve left to lose’), and it is the latter quality that’s reflected in the music, which is driving and uptempo, anchored to a searing guitar riff and straightforward yet powerful drums. This is followed by what could be called the emotional core of the album: Belongings (which deals with emotional baggage and ways to forget it, or at least to leave it behind), White Noise (the power of the present) and A Piece of String (assistance and dependency); the latter two are re-recorded to fit in with the album’s sound.
The fact that three songs out of those four will be familiar to most doesn’t seem to matter when they’re all so diverse and well-constructed; I don’t normally like it when bands line up singles next to each other, because it usually doesn’t work. No such complaints here, and even though these songs take the listener on an emotional rollercoaster, it never once becomes too much. Ways to Forget is an album infused with depth and emotional weight, but immediacy is never once sacrificed. At the same time, the (sort of) Peter Pan-referencing The Lost Buoys takes a little longer to get going than the songs which surround it… only to deliver on all its promises with a life-affirming chorus that seems to come from nowhere.
Once again, it finds a companion piece (‘And now we’ve gone away from those islands we called home’) in Move to the Mountains, one of the many songs on the album that grapples with the idea of a fresh start (‘Would we leave all our doubt and fearful wonder, pull ourselves upward or go under? … We know we can always come back someday’). Fresh starts and new beginnings are what lie at the core of the album, when all is said and done. From its opener right through to the Samuel Beckett-referencing closer (‘No matter, try again and fail again; fail better’), the idea of a new life seems to tie much of Ways to Forget together - the album title does touch on memory, after all.
I’m not sure I can fault this record, to be honest. A long time ago, I awarded a perfect score to an album, and two-and-a-half years later I still stand by it. If we bothered to give ratings out here, Ways to Forget would get the same treatment. I don’t need to justify it, though – it does everything I hoped it would, and then some. The word ‘masterpiece’ should not be used lightly, but I can think of no other way to describe this.
Once and For All
Lesson No. 7
Ways to Forget is released on April 23rd through Moshi Moshi/Island Records.