There was always something particularly tricky to love about Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. There was that unwieldy moniker, Duckworth’s slightly earnest air and penchant for calling his songs things like The Chronicles Of A Bohemian Teenager or The Children Are (The Consumers Of) The Future.
Perhaps most damningly of all, there was nothing particularly special about GCWCF to make him stand out from the crowd. His songs were pleasant enough, but with no discernable personality of their own, despite the eye-catching nature of collaborations with the likes of Shy Child or Nitin Sawhney.
So, for his fourth album, Duckworth has decided to go back to the drawing board. That name has been jettisoned, and his old method of composing his songs on his laptop is no more. Instead, that tried and trusted method of ‘one man and his guitar’ is heavily to the fore.
As soon as the music starts though, it’s clear that this isn’t particularly different fare for Duckworth. It’s nicely recorded – there’s an otherworldly, slightly spacey quality to tracks like The Miracle Of Science, while the guitar loops and beats of Clementine showcase a lovely, touching ballad. Yet the same old problems still remain.
It’s mainly Duckworth’s lyrics that are to blame – he’s always had a slightly hectoring tone to his more political songs, and it’s a habit that continues here. The title track tackles the financial crisis by stating the obvious – “anything you like, you can have it now – and pay for it later, we’ll work it out”: a shame, as the lilting guitar chords and beautiful melody make it one of the better songs here.
The Farmer is similarly clunky, with lines like “he disregarded everything and tore up the field with unrenouncing relish”, and it doesn’t help that there’s no discernable hook to hide the lyrical clumsiness. It’s frustrating, especially when sat alongside the of a deceased motorbike rider in 18 To 1 or the beautifully poetic tribute to the dead of Chernobyl that is Angels In The Snow.
At only nine tracks though, The Mannequin never outstays its welcome, and there’s always something interesting happening sonically at least – the lo-fi nature of Crane Song or the spooky atmospherics of the reverb-laden Nights.
Sam Duckworth is one of those artists who you’re just willing to make a great record – his work with Love Music Hate Racism and his sterling efforts to help clean up the post-riots London guarantees him a huge amount of goodwill. Yet, despite his undoubted talent, The Mannequin just demonstrates that, even without his Cape, Duckworth is still learning to fly.