Simply reading the title and looking at the cover art of ‘Friends Without Names’ by Clockwork Orchestra is enough to evoke a feeling of childhood innocence. This is no accident, as the album is firmly based around the creation of a dreamlike, nursery rhyme quality.
Clockwork Orchestra, otherwise known as songwriter Paul Mangan, describes himself as a “bedroom producer and control freak extraordinaire”, and on his debut album this description seems to fit quite well. The album is an eclectic mix of diverse electronic beats and quirky, off-the-wall lyrics.
The boundless imagination and willingness to experiment on display in ‘Friends Without Names’ is definitely its greatest asset, but unfortunately this diversity is also what cause the album to lose its way. While the self-styled electronic poetry of Clockwork Orchestra succeeds in transporting the listener into a strange land of childhood innocence on certain tracks, it totally fails to engage on others. The result is a very mixed album, with momentary flashes of radiance buried beneath multiple layers of experimentation that can be jarring and at times quite irritating.
Most of the failings of ‘Friends Without Names’ are evident on the opening track, The Book that Won’t Be Read. The lyrics are clearly attempting to emulate a kind of nursery rhyme, storybook quality. Instead they come across as somewhat childish, particularly when set to a melody that feels like the theme tune of a cartoon for pre-school children. Likewise Zebedee (taking its name from a character in The Magic Roundabout) is almost hyperactively childish, as if attempting a kind of innocent psychedelia, composed by a musician on a sugar rush as opposed to tripping out on LSD.
However as the album drags on the quality does pick up somewhat. Miss World and Black Ice are upbeat, quirky tracks driven by catchy synth riffs, and wouldn’t seem entirely out of place on a Bell X1 or Royseven album. The best moments on the album are probably the two instrumental tracks, As The Whirligig Spins and Mummer. Both of these are tightly arranged, enthralling electronic soundscapes, and when stripped of the distractingly childish lyrics, it is clear this is where Clockwork Orchestra’s greatest strength lies.
On Murmur in particular – with its evocative, orchestral, film score quality – the brilliance behind this album finally manages to shine trough. Unfortunately this brilliance is wildly inconsistent on most of the other tracks, and fails to emerge wholly and coherently for any lasting amount of time.