Issue 2012-025: Rush - Clockwork Angels - Round Table Review
Tracklist: Caravan (5:39), BU2B (5:10), Clockwork Angels (7:32), The Anarchist (6:52), Carnies (4:52), Halo Effect (3:14), Seven Cities Of Gold (6:32), The Wreckers (5:01), Headlong Flight (7:21), BU2B2 (1:27), Wish Them Well (5:26), The Garden (6:59)
Alison Henderson's Review
Unless you have been on a desert island without an iPad for the past year and a half, it would have been difficult to escape the almost deafening levels of expectation surrounding the protracted lead-in time to Clockwork Angels’ release. Much of this has had to do with the extensive touring the Holy Trinity (the nickname bestowed on them by their adoring fans) undertook last year to help stir up this feeding frenzy. They dropped plenty of clues along the way as to what was about to be unleashed such as the huge arena stage set comprising steampunk contraptions which fired off rounds of pyrotechnic trickery at appropriate moments and the band playing two of the album’s new tracks, Caravan and BU2B with accompanying screen animations to stoke the imagination and whet the appetite. However, the behemoth Rush has now become delights and confuses in equal measures. There are those who simply don’t “get” them and equally, there are those who do tend to elevate them to God-like status. This is not bad going for two guys whose families were immigrants to Canada from Europe and a third who used to help out his father in his farm machinery business and read a lot: but more about that later.
Clockwork Angels is their 20th studio album in a musical career now stretching across 44 years and which has seen a continuous and systemic shift musically both in substance and style, due mainly as to whichever book drummer Neil Peart had on the go at the time. And as a result, practically every Rush fan can cite their own “golden age” of the band, many pointing the early heady days of 2112 and Peart’s dalliances with the works of Ayn Rand, founder of Objectivism, which resulted in the band being lambasted for giving such extreme philosophies much wider exposure. But this is all part and parcel of Peart’s sweeping intellect and relentless thirst for knowledge, which 36 years after 2112 was first released continues the theme of the little guy taking on an empire. In 2112, it was the Starman against a solar federation led by the controlling Priests of the Temple of Syrinx (still a great line to shriek on top of your voice while driving along a fast stretch of road). The little guy is now the Protagonist while the priests have morphed into the Watchmaker and the eponymous Clockwork Angels in a similar dystopian landscape. However, and most crucially, without Peart’s philosophical and sociological insights informing their lyrics, Rush would remain another two dimensional rock band, rather than the three - even four dimensions they now command through their music.
As a result, Clockwork Angels is one of their finest albums to date. Why? Several reasons spring to mind. The first is this is their first fully-blown concept album and its myriad complexities will keep the fan base looking for clues for the rest of time. As mentioned before, it creates a landscape first fashioned by writers such as Jules Verne and H G Wells, the Victorian novelists around whom the steampunk vision of mechanical flying machines (apart from Leonardo da Vinci before them) was envisaged. This is the overriding theme here with one man’s quest through this parallel reality controlled by the Watchmaker and Clockwork Angels, who ensure that no-one is ever free. It is a future viewed from a totally unique perspective – steampunk, clockwork and while you are at it, add alchemy into the final mix as the alchemic elements are also crucial to the overall plot, their symbols appearing in the extraordinary artwork instead of the angels, who Peart says will remain mysterious figures for now.
Secondly, this is one of the most literary albums of all time with tracks influenced by Joseph Conrad, Daphne du Maurier and Voltaire among others. If it gets listeners dashing back to revisit the works of these classic writers, then that is no bad thing.
And thirdly in the place of previous Rushian characters such as Tom Sawyer, New World Man and Analogue Kid, all very much of their time, we now have a completely new dramatis personae comprising the Protagonist – the story teller, the angels themselves, the Watchmaker and his regulators, plus anarchists, carnival workers, pedlars and pirates.
And fourthly – and most importantly, there is the music itself. This is the most astonishing achievement of all because somehow, Rush seem to have become their own inspirers in the making of this. It reminds me of the immortal comment made when Rush appeared on The Colbert Report during which interviewer Stephen Colbert asked if they had ever written a song so epic that by the end of it, they were influencing themselves. This is what appears to have happened here.
- So down to business the clanging bells and brassy sound effects to open Caravan that explodes into a huge meaty riff driven juggernaut of a song with Peart in total overdrive before the refrain “I can’t stop thinking big” hooks you in and focuses you on the journey ahead. It is obvious that Geddy Lee’s voice is now a completely different instrument to what it was during its helium-charged heights in the 70s/80s. It sounds lower, more refined and less screechy: and as a result, you do concentrate on what he is singing. Some great driving guitar runs from Alex Lifeson and meaty bass from Lee makes this the best possible curtain raiser.
- And then the sound effects including acoustic guitar lull you in to a false sense of security as BU2B comes at you full on with one of the heaviest kick ass riffs the band has created for eons. Lee’s slightly echoey voice just slots perfectly over the top as the next chapter in the story unfolds. They never cease to amaze you at their ability to produce such a totally “now” sound younger bands would kill for.
- An Eastern sounding voice and shimmering percussion then builds the huge wall of melodic sound for Clockwork Angels, Lifeson’s guitar and Lee’s bass complementing each other’s melody lines perfectly. No-one else plays the bass with Lee’s fluidity and this is another prime example of why he continues to confound. There are also some haunting harmonies which are the angels speaking. These all add to the whole magic of the mix along with lyrics which conjure up some faraway place in a different realm.
- An almost punky introduction begins The Anarchist, inspired by works by both Joseph Conrad and Michael Ondaatje, but this hard rocking song contains all the Rush hallmarks with a huge bass melody, full-on riffing and Peart hitting the skins with such power, the sound almost reverberates. There is also a bit of an Eastern groove going on too with strings giving it even more texture.
- So it is off to the fairground and a huge crash and burn bluesy volley of chords which cranks up Carnies, another blistering exercise in pulsating rock with Lifeson’s guitar going into overdrive with Lee pulling out all the vocal stops to great effect especially on the immortal line: “Sometimes the angels punish us by answering our prayers.” This track just gets better and better each time because new elements emerge every time.
- The Halo Effect is a terrific lyrical illusion about unrequited love – with images of goddesses and angels, which builds from a few acoustic chords into almost a power ballad with strings this time adding a more doleful air and Lee really pumping some emotion into his lovelorn voice. Very much a rarity in the extensive Rush canon!
- A great chunky bass melody kicks off Seven Cities Of Gold, inspired by the explorer Coronado’s quests to find cities of gold in the USA’s south west. It settles back into a very familiar Rush groove harking back to their mid-70s golden age especially
A Farewell To Kings and is inspired by the band’s love of British music in the 60s and 70s. This is familiar territory but given such a contemporary twist thanks to the brilliant mixing of producer Nick Raskulinecz on this his second album with them. His understanding of their music really shines through especially on this track where they all sound totally relaxed and in the zone.
- The Wreckers is probably the most unusual songs on the album because the chorus was conceived by Lee using Lifeson’s Nashville guitar while Lifeson wrote the bass part. But the song sounds fresh, vibrant and interesting with Peart’s lyrics, influenced by Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn, really nailing the huge extremely tuneful chorus line.
- And so to Headlong Flight, probably the emblematic track of the whole album, this one inspired by Peart’s drum teacher Freddie Gruber who died last year. It is a turbo-charged rollercoaster of a song that again encapsulates everything that Rush stands for. Huge riffs from Lifeson along with a killer wahwah solo, a big growly bass line from Lee and Neil Peart so on top of his game, he even drops in a mini drum solo.
It blazes along fusing chaos with considerable power and might. Yet, it never runs away with itself and just makes your mind spin when you consider all the elements that have gone into it. Above all, it is also a perfect lyrical assessment of their entire musical journey.
- A quick breather and reprieve come with BU2B2 with Lee backed by chugging strings as he briefly recaps on the story so far.
- Wish Them Well is another gutsy rocker and probably the only track where perhaps a little bit of editing might have improved it slightly. However, the jangly guitars are delightful and Peart’s rigid drum work is a thing of great wonder but it still remains the least effective track on the whole album.
- But the very best is saved until last through The Garden, the most atypical Rush track on the entire album. Lust strings, acoustic guitars and Lee singing with great tenderness make for a most beautiful evocative song with the constant reminder that “The hours tick away”. It is so light yet so deep in bringing the album to its philosophical conclusion, drawing on Voltaire’s classic novel Candide in which the eponymous hero suffers a series of misfortunes in his life before settling down on a farm. Piano accompanies Lee in the most simplistic way, the inflections in his voice totally embracing the overarching message of the piece while Lifeson adds the most dramatically evocative guitar that conveys a lushness so symbolic of a garden. Its lyrics contain the sentiment: “It is what it is –and forever, Each moment a memory in flight”, words which sum up this album perfectly.
Thinking about this album also puts me in mind of Squackett and Transatlantic’s The Whirlwind, all three of which all end on a positive note. Squackett’s Perfect Love Song reaching the conclusion that real love is attainable, Transatlantic’s Dancing With Eternal Glory giving hope for continued life in a different dimension and Clockwork Angels offering the tranquillity of the garden as a final destination and a place to meet your Watchmaker once all your earthly hours have finally ticked away.
Above all, and having found its predecessor Snakes And Arrows rather patchy in quality, I can only salute Rush for coming back with another master-class in rock brilliance. Being a long-time fan of theirs makes me ultra-critical – as with Yes last year, but unlike Yes, they have used the very essence of their past to completely revamp their sound into something quite spectacularly modern and relevant.
Some might find it bombastic or overblown and devoid of the proggy flourishes of the past. However, I do not think you can categorise them anymore. They are who they are and there is no-one else in their league. The very fact there is a book based on the story written by Peart’s friend, sci fi author Kevin Anderson being published in the next few months speaks volumes about the boundaries they have pushed back and successfully crossed in fusing music with literature, philosophy and ideology. Nobody does it better: no-one ever will.
PS: Check the time on the clock on the album cover. You might find the time shown is 21.12.
Roger Trenwith's Review
Other reviewers in this round robin are probably all fans, or have been fans of the band, and I’m here to add a neutral’s perspective, so you’ll have to bear with me on this one as I’ve done a lot of research into the band for this review, as a name as big as Rush deserves that respect. You may not agree with my conclusions, which, given the short deadline for this review, may be rushed (arf!) and could well be completely wide of mark, and I’m more than willing to be corrected.
What I know about Rush music could be written on the back of a postage stamp. You see, I’ve never been into the Canadian prog behemoths, partly because they released their major prog works years after the boat had left the harbour, in the UK at least. However, the main reason for Rush going under my radar was largely down to what I perceived as the “nails down a blackboard” vocal styling of Mr Lee. I actually don’t mind their music, but God, that voice! Another off-putting circumstance was, as I later discovered, the fact that they used to be heavily into the decidedly dodgy neo-fascistic writings of Ayn Rand, a woman who was so opinionated she could start an argument with her own shadow. I say “used” as I’m reliably informed by those who would know this far better than me that lyricist Neil Peart no longer hangs on her every written word and hasn’t for a long long time, growing weary of being seen as a disciple.
Here goes… Peart is that rare and seemingly contradictory thing amongst creative people, a conservative, hardly surprising given his stable and relatively well-off upbringing. The vast majority of artists in any field tend to be open minded and therefore liberal in outlook as it goes with the territory. As a conservative Peart is therefore an exception to that rule, and as such a walking dichotomy.
Having put myself through a brief crash course of his lyrics, it’s fairly obvious that he champions the cause of the individual against the faceless corporate society, and that he is not a fan of organised religion. No arguments on those scores from me, so far so good! It also comes across that he is an extremely intelligent and obviously very well-read chap, who seems to promote the cause of the individual and free will well above that of nurturing society, which is where our paths diverge. There is obviously some heavy concept at work here which seems to boil down to “society bad, individual good” which is not a world view I am at all comfortable with. Any conservative philosophy is essentially an exercise in justifying selfishness and it will never convince me. I don’t know, maybe I’ve missed some higher point here that Peart has been spinning out over previous albums, but that’s the way I see it, and like I said, I am quite willing to be shown the error of my ways!
Clockwork Angels is a tale of one man’s aspirations and battles with society’s expectations, limitations and disappointments under the heavy manners of the inexorable march of time itself, which even Peart admits is beyond the control of the individual. The “running against the clock” theme is hardly surprising given the advanced age of the band. Tempus fugit and all that.
Sod the politics and the cod philosophising, what of the music you may well ask? Well, firstly I must say that Geddy’s voice is far more tolerable than I remember it; he must have mellowed with age. What we seem to have here is a fairly straightforward heavy rock record of the old school, with added strange time signatures and production effects being enough to make it “prog”, and I must admit I quite like it for the most part.
The title track with its heavy reverb mixes psychedelia with an 80s feel I can’t quite put my finger on. In places it almost sounds like U2 with balls – no, really! The Anarchist is a superb tale of middle-aged angst, our hero being envious of those who “believe” for the certainty of their convictions. A great lyric no doubt, but a bit unfocused musically, lacking the punch of what has gone before.
There are some storming riffs on this album, BU2B and the opening section of Carnies being prime examples, the latter almost Zeppelinesque in its enormity. Hard rock is the basis for everything here, and I’ve no idea if this is the case, but are they harking back to an earlier sound on this album? For a group of blokes rapidly approaching their 60s they show us they can still rock out with a convincing power without ever sounding cheesy. Rush also show a good grasp of dynamics, highlighted by the following ballad Halo Effect, as indeed they should given their experience, and Geddy shows he knows his funk on several songs. Alex’s guitars being the dominant melodic instruments mostly manage to keep just the right side of overbearing and his soloing is for the most part tastefully short and to the point, only occasionally wigging out as on Seven Cities Of Gold, a science fiction rock’n’roll riff extravaganza. Neil’s drums are exemplary as one would expect, and given that he is no spring chicken and muscular drumming is a young man’s game, he shows he can still lay down monstrous beats with ease.
Yikes! Was that a cookie monster I heard on Headlong Flight, which to these ears is a bit of a mess and about 2 minutes too long and the first track on the album I actively disliked on first hearing, although it has since grown on me. Wish Them Well strays into empty bluster territory and seems to drag on, the plodding beat becoming bloody wearing by the end. The album redeems itself with closer The Garden, a well thought out and uplifting piece of song writing that goes through enough changes in dynamic to more than hold one’s interest. The lyric too is unarguable – “The treasure of a life is a measure of love and respect. The way you live, the gifts you give” – only a fool would argue with that, despite the overriding “look after your own” Republican sentiment of the song.
Rush are very definitely a “Marmite” band, and Rolling Stone once infamously referred to their fans as “the Trekkies of rock” such is their unquestioning devotion. Probably similar to Steven Wilson, Rush could release an album of their collective bathroom noises and the less discerning of their fans would still snaffle it up. They also seem to be willing to pay ludicrously extortionate ticket prices to see their heroes live, something I would not do even for Steven Wilson, as blowing six months’ gig budget on one band goes entirely against the grain and is also a major hindrance to the progress of new bands, without whom etc etc.
I hope SW never gets to that level of needful trouser-lining. Anyway, that’s another story. Approaching this album as an outsider has made me appreciate that Rush are fine songsmiths with a lyricist who has an intellect the size of a small planet, albeit with a tendency to sometimes get a bit too earnest, and that they know how to go for the kill with bludgeon riffola, sometimes in 9/8 time too, although on this album a bit of editing would not have gone amiss. Has it converted me to the cause? No, it’s far too late for that and there is far too much new music out there to be discovered that precludes me from wasting time and money on a band who do not need it, but I’ll certainly keep an ear out for what comes next.
Marking this is going to be bloody difficult. It does not need or indeed merit an 8 which is needed to get a recommended rating on this site as Rush fans will buy it regardless. It is a decent hard rock/prog crossover album that runs out of steam towards the end and is probably a couple of songs too long, and had I not had access to a review copy I would almost certainly not have bought it. I’ll stick to Amplifier and their marvellous Octopus album for my dose of hard rock/prog crossover, thanks all the same. Having said that it is far better than some of the utter gubbins that passes as prog these days. Hmmmm… dilemmas, dilemmas…
Jez Rowden's Review
No introduction should be necessary on this one but if you aren’t aware of the music of Rush and wish to begin your education then you could do much worse than starting here. Once you’re hooked, which I suspect won’t take long, there are another 19 studio albums plus live discs and DVDs to soak up so you have a lot of studying ahead.
My Rush journey began in 1982, not long after I had discovered bands like Pink Floyd, Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy, when a school friend played me Signals. Rush sounded completely alien to anything that I had heard previously and I couldn’t get past Geddy Lee’s squeaky voice so I foolishly turned down a chance to see them on the Signals tour - £13 including the bus from South Wales to Birmingham as I recall – which is one of the biggest regrets of my musical life. Eventually I got used to the sounds, investigated the back catalogue, bought Grace Under Pressure on release and have not looked back. Permanent Waves soon emerged as a favourite and that is one of the reasons that Clockwork Angels resonates so well with me as there are a number of pointers to that particular period of the band’s long history to be heard albeit filtered through their discoveries of the last 30 years.
Two years on since the original single release, the first fruits of Caravan and BU2B start things off and set the scene with tweaked and amended versions which work very well. After an atmospheric start Caravan roars in as a rampaging rocker with an energetic enthusiasm to the players that belie their years. All three are on top form with the bass particularly high in a mix which is crisp, clear and open; the muddiness and density of sound prevalent on Vapor Trails long gone. Compared to the other post-hiatus album, Snakes And Arrows, there is much less clutter allowing the music to flow and reveal itself without getting bogged down in ‘kitchen sink’ additions. The keys return here and there fitting well into very much a supporting role that allows the main instruments room to breathe whilst reaffirming an element of their 1980s experimentation with synthesisers. Geddy is in fine voice and provides some particularly tasty bass breaks while Alex Lifeson is in fiery form with sharp, cutting lines.
This is indeed a startlingly vigorous album for a band 40 odd years into a stunning and ground breaking career. Not a return to form as such as I enjoy all of their releases but Clockwork Angels certainly sounds like the album many have been waiting to hear from Rush for some time.
Well produced again by Nick Raskulinecz after his work on Snakes And Arrows, early rumours of a concept album were quickly scotched by Lifeson but that is just what Clockwork Angels has become. Although Rush albums of old often involved lengthy, multi-part concept pieces and more recently have utilised thematic ideas this is, perhaps surprisingly, the first full concept album of their illustrious career. An understanding of the concept is essential to fully appreciating the album but details of it can be found elsewhere so I won’t go into it here. Suffice to say, Neil Peart has worked hard to produce some of the best lyrics of his career and thrown himself into producing a novelisation of the story with sci-fi writer Kevin J. Anderson. This process has clearly been inspirational to Neil in his writing but what of his playing?
It is Geddy who really stands out on this album while Neil, playing as exceptionally well as always, settles into the groove playing instinctively rather than overtly displaying his unbelievable skills. He appears to be playing for the songs more than ever and often blends in so seamlessly that you don’t notice him as much as the other two. This is a testament to his understanding and technique and possibly a result of him changing the way he approached writing and recording his parts as discussed in his blog:-
"I played through each song just a few times on my own, checking out patterns and fills that might work, then called in [Raskulinecz]. He stood in the room ... facing my drums, with a music stand and a single drumstick — he was my conductor, and I was his orchestra ... I would attack the drums, responding to his enthusiasm, and his suggestions between takes, and together we would hammer out the basic architecture of the part. His baton would conduct me into choruses, half-time bridges, and double-time outros and so on—so I didn’t have to worry about their durations. No counting and no endless repetition."
This process seems to have reaped huge dividends and it is extraordinary and inspirational how a talent such as Peart can still strive to improve and hone his skills at this stage of his career. No resting on past glories for this lot and it is great to see that Rush’s legendary work ethic is still fully functioning and showing no sign of diminishing any time soon.
Back to the music and BU2B has a dreamlike intro with acoustic guitar that bursts into thumping metal, Geddy’s bass leading the way with delicious runs and trills. The chorus is catchy and compelling and Alex provides a fine solo. The companion piece, BU2B2, is brief, dark and atmospheric, a different direction entirely for the band which sees Geddy alone singing over building strings. The string section is effectively used on a number of tracks to add a new texture to Rush’s palette while Lifeson’s acoustic guitar has found a comfortable place to co-exist with the heavier material on Clockwork Angels.
More atmospherics open the title track which progresses with guitar and drums reminiscent of the bands heyday, specifically Hemispheres. Geddy sounds near his early ‘80s peak vocally as the track rolls through various sections alternating smooth and stately with high energy rocking. The chorus features the “Geddy choir” vocal multi-tracking but this is used sparingly, while the off-kilter bluesy mid-section features an unusual solo from Alex and megaphone vocals. There is plenty going on here and it takes a while to absorb it. A forward looking mini-epic with more than a nod to the past, this is something that the Rush have not attempted in many years and they pull it off with all the style and panache that you would expect. This does not sound like a band at the end of its career and there is a joy and vitality to the playing, Rush sounding reinvigorated by the material and filled with a youthful energy.
Hints of the Rush of old also come through on The Anarchist, specifically the Permanent Waves period, in Alex’s guitar plus the interplay between drum and bass. Strings add an Eastern flavour to this track that should please long-time fans. The same can be said for the album’s second single, Headlong Flight, which thunders along on a scampering bass line, the stripped back feel harking back to some of their earliest work – I certainly didn’t expect the deliberate self-referencing of Bastille Day on this album – making it one of the standouts and probably the lynchpin of Clockwork Angels. The lyrics also look back, noting that the journey to now, be it through the good times or the bad, construct the present and ultimately the future. Again, it is the immense positivity of Rush that is so compelling.
Shards of metallic guitar introduce Carnies, vocals surfing serenely above the thumping music, and Permanent Waves is again the touchstone when the melody hits. Geddy seems to be less guilty of over-singing than on other recent releases and this coupled with a distinct lack of superfluous ornamentation adds greatly to the directness of the songs. It rocks hard as per their recent work but keeps the balance with melody as Rush produce some of their best tunes in ages.
Halo Effect is a mellower affair that changes the mood whilst retaining enough punch not to sound lightweight. After an acoustic start it builds into a mid-tempo piece with an epic feel and there is a homely quality to this one with good use of strings to add emotional depth.
Seven Cities Of Gold kicks off with a particularly funky bass line – it is so good to hear Geddy playing like this – and continues with heavy verses and a soaring chorus, Geddy confidently hitting plenty of high notes. This is classic melodic Rush as is The Wreckers which has one of the catchiest choruses that the band have produced in a long, long time with strings lifting the second half; intelligent, rocking and tuneful all at the same time like only our favourite Canadian power trio can, this is an album that just gets better and better. There is, for me, no filler and no skippers on Clockwork Angels and as an album it works as a whole, the long gestation period and lengthy stint of roadwork during its creation paying dividends and producing a very diverse and rewarding album.
Wish Them Well is another melodic track with a positive message that sounds like it could have been written way back when before The Garden brings the album to a close with something new. The track is atmospheric and lengthy, tying the concept together and making for a fantastic way to end such a stunning album. Some gorgeous piano from Jason Sniderman adds a new texture as Geddy sings his heart out over Alex’s chiming guitar. It may well be the best track on an album filled with high points, retaining its acoustic nature to keep the organic and natural feel in a way that no other Rush track ever has and building to a sweeping and emotional climax of strings. Whoa, I didn’t expect that! Simply wonderful.
Art direction is by regular contributor Hugh Syme who has again produced some stunning work that is both eye-catching and knowing, the cover displaying as it does the time 9:12 (or 21:12) on the alchemical clock face. Band portrait is by the late Andrew MacNaughtan, to whom the album is dedicated, and the whole package is gorgeously presented.
In a different universe this is the album Rush may have made after Permanent Waves but in reality it couldn’t have happened without the synth years, experimentation and the return to heaviness of more recent releases so God bless evolution!
This is the most complete and focused Rush album in a long time and as a result needs to be taken seriously in context with their classic releases. I’m too old and cynical to get drawn in by the hype on such “return to form” claims as surrounded Clockwork Angels and have waited in hope rather than with expectation. Having been recently let down by the Squackett album I am pleased to report that Clockwork Angels is a fine album that justifies the hype and appears to have the legs to allow it to be considered alongside albums such as Moving Pictures, Permanent Waves or Signals and after listening to it a lot over a short period it is a distinct possibility that it will.
Rush sound fresh and inspired and that is more than I could ever have asked from them at this point in their career. If this is the end of the line then thanks for the journey guys, it has been quite a trip, but hopefully the road will continue on for a long time to come.
Edwin Roosjen's Review
Rush is a band that needs no introduction so I will skip that part for this review. There are enough other resources where you can find the complete story on this legendary band. Personally I have been a Rush fan for many years now. I still remember jumping off my bike when I saw a sign in a record store that said "New Rush release available!" Without hesitating I bought the album, it was Test For Echo. I got interested in Rush about the time of the release of Presto. Been following them ever since and also got interested in the back catalogue of the band. In my opinion all the albums Rush has delivered are good and some albums are very good. Rush have also produced a lot of live albums in the last couple of years so it is nice to see they have got a studio album out again.
Just like on the previous albums, the sound of Rush is more filled with heavy guitars than before. No more keyboard melodies or electronic sounds, only heavy rock music. For this new album Rush also took a turn towards more complex rhythm schemes, but in the end the sound is still very very very recognizable Rush. My first feeling was that Clockwork Angels has the same flow/feel as Test For Echo, if I have to name an album that comes close to Clockwork Angels then that would be the one.
The opener Caravan immediately lets you know what's in store for you on this album. Normally the opening song on an album is more accessible so people not familiar with the band will not immediately put down the album, however Rush chose to immediately show the 'new' sound, love it or leave it. On BU2B the complexity is not as prominent as on Caravan and the chorus is a lot more accessible but still with enough pounding rhythms combined with easier parts to keep the steady fanbase satisfied. The title track Clockwork Angels is not my favourite song. The result of not wanting to create an easy listening album can also result in a song with too much trickery. That is what happened to the title track, I drown in the changing rhythms combined with melodic vocal lines that require more accessible music.
The easy/difficult alternating sequence continues because on The Anarchist rhythm parts are again at a 'normal' level. This song reminds me of the early eighties, a combination of Rush and Iron Maiden from that era. Everybody must agree with me that the song title The Anarchist could have been from an Iron Maiden song. Carnies is a bit of a strange song, odd structure but all over a nice Rush song. The song Halo Effect starts mellow with acoustic guitar and a gentle pace. It evolves into a power ballad with beautiful vocals. It has the potential of an epic song but it ends just after 3 minutes and I would have loved to see a song like this reach to seven or eight minutes in length. Maybe it is for the better because now I can enjoy the best track of the album a few minutes sooner. I always enjoy it a few minutes sooner because I have to admit I usually skip directly to this song. Play it at full volume in your car and you will know why. Seven Cities Of Gold is by far the best song on the album.
The Wreckers sounds a little bit like Carnies, the beautiful chorus puts this song on a higher level so the label 'filler' is not really applicable for this song. Headlong Flight is a very fast rock song and this only amplifies my comparison with Test For Echo where on that album the song Dog Years was the speedy song. The purpose of BU2B2 is beyond me as it is not really a clear relation to BU2B and not a bridge to the next song either. Ah well, just skip it. The lyrics on Wish Them Well may appear a bit cheesy but they sure stick in your head. Another good nomination for the contest 'sing-a-long with an iPod on the bus and feel silly when everybody looks at you'. Not really a bad thing when you sing-along "Wish Them Well" in a crowd, there are worst things to shout out while wearing earplugs. The Garden is a beautiful ballad and another great song on this album. I still favour the rock song Seven Cities Of Gold but The Garden is a really close second with beautiful acoustic guitar and piano, a wonderful song.
Clockwork Angels is the next logical step after Snakes And Arrows. Everything you want to hear on a Rush album is present, the high voice and heavy rolling bass from Geddy Lee, the easy sounding but very difficult guitar playing style from Alex Lifeson and of course the technical drumming and beautiful lyrics from Neil Peart. After the brilliant Snakes And Arrows they moved their style towards heavier rock music, more heavy guitar riffs. This is probably why I have the same feeling with Clockwork Angels as I had with Test For Echo, back then they also took a turn for the heavier rock music after Counterparts. Does not really matter because when comparing Clockwork Angels with any other Rush album the only conclusion I can come up with is that this is another great Rush album.