Album Reviews

Rush – Clockwork Angels

on June 22, 2012, 8:00am
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Canada’s honored knights of all that is progressive, rocking, and conceptual have finally released their long-awaited 20th studio album, Clockwork Angels. With it, Rush sets a great example of how a band with a colossal body of hallowed and revered work can age with grace and simultaneously remain relevant to the musical landscape of today. And while the holy trinity now grows a bit long of tooth, Clockwork Angels displays an unexpectedly edgier sound than we have yet heard from the band.

Clockwork Angels finds Rush making their triumphant return to doing what they have always done better than just about anyone: building albums with conceptual depth fueled by unabashedly cerebral ideas. To that end, Clockwork was grown from the seeds of 17th century French philosopher Voltaire’s most widely known and lauded work, Candide. For those not familiar with the philosopher’s magnum opus, Candide is a sarcastic musing on the meaning of optimism during trying times. While Candide is rooted in natural disaster, like the massive earthquake that struck Lisbon in 1755, Clockwork Angels’ storyline was inspired by Rush lyricist and drum deity Neil Peart’s own life experience in dealing with the tragic loss of both his daughter and wife within the span of a year, and more recently, the passing of his drum instructor, Freddie Gruber. Peart utilizes the basic skeleton of Candide to explore his own grief and optimism within the lyrics of Clockwork Angels, albeit via some very different aesthetic choices than those selected by dear old Voltaire. The album’s tale follows a young man’s sojourn through a steam-punk inspired dreamscape, rife with adventure, fantasy, carnivals, and whimsical characters. While the concept of the album is a strong one, it is presented in a more lyrically subtle way than what one may have come to expect from other Rush experiences.

Muted lyrics aside, the sonics of Clockwork Angels stands proudly as some of the most aggressive to date for the trio. The album’s second track, “BU2B”, finds the band residing in a near heavy-metal realm of chunky guitars via a math-informed breakdown of a verse that brings back memories of Alex Lifeson’s 1996 Victor album. And the ’90s strain of heavier rock flows deeply through other tracks on the album as well, though it’s all done with the taste and panache that Rush has trademarked.

All three of Rush’s virtuosic musicians can still play with the kind of precision and athleticism that originally put the band on the map, and even more impressive than the playing is just how well lead singer Geddy Lee’s voice has weathered the years of touring and recording abuse. Though the highs are not quite as high, Lee still possesses a ridiculous range, and lead single “Headlong Flight” shows off his pipes in all of their high-pitched glory. The album boasts more than a few numbers that will sound absolutely monstrous on the full U.S. tour the band intends to embark upon in support of the record. “Seven Cities of Gold”, in particular, blasts off with all of the hallmarks of a great Rush song; from Lifeson and Lee’s synchronized riffing, to Peart’s driven and ever-so-flashy drumming, the track exemplifies the best parts of the entire album.

For Clockwork Angels, the band has returned to Snakes and Arrows producer Nick Raskulinecz, and his touch may very well account for a great deal of the album’s heavier sound. Raskulinecz’s production credits include albums by Foo Fighters, Evanescence, and the Deftones, and while his production does make for a loud, clean, and present album, it works against the quality of the songs at times. As fellow Raskulinecz production client Dave Grohl said in his 2012 Grammy acceptance speech, “the human element is what’s important,” and for all of the grandiose and pristine sounds heard on Clockwork, there is a certainly something missing from the sonic recipe. Though a specific culprit eludes blame, it simply feels as though the modern production values can, at times, rob the trio of some of their personality.

On the other hand, the glossy production, in conjunction with the edgier songs, may be the push the band needs to court younger fans. Like fellow prog-rock titans Yes and their Big Generator album, Clockwork Angels is an album with progressive sensibilities that can be easily digested by just about anyone looking for a good rock song, and may even yield a major hit or two. However, the added bonus here is that while each song can stand on its own, the album as a whole– with its conceptual trappings and storyline– makes for an equally rewarding experience. Is Clockwork Angels the group’s magnum opus, a la Candide? No, but it is a killer rock record with a great story.

Essential Tracks: “Headlong Flight”, “Seven Cities of Gold”, and “Wish Them Well”

28 comments

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Lars Ekland
August 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Oh screw R&RHoF.. They’re about as relevant as Ice Cream is to a pot of XXX Texas Chili.
I like the energy of the new album (CA), but MAN I wish the producers would have left off all that limiter/compression – the dynamics of 2112, or A Farewell To Kings is what sent Rush to the top of the charts back in the 70s.. Turn back all the CLOCKWORK and lets get back to the DYNAMICS of 1970’s RUSH.

Mike
August 7, 2012 at 6:20 pm

The fact that everyone seems to name a different song as their favorite is testimony of how damn good this album is. Thank God for RUSH!!!

Bill M.
August 13, 2012 at 2:01 pm

My thoughts exactly! In reading several reviews and their comments I have seen every song on this album named multiple times as someone’s favorite or as one of the standout tracks.

kokstain
July 25, 2012 at 8:49 pm

this album is incredible. all you na sayers lick balls!

Stuart Miller
July 20, 2012 at 5:10 am

How can you compare CA to “Big Generator”? :-O

Clockwork Angels is as good as anything Rush have ever done. It’s really only the fact that most reviewers (and Rush fans) are too scared to admit it to themselves – in case the 2112/Moving Pictures brigade start on them or it breaks some sacred bond to your teenage years. Life has moved on for all of us since then and so has Rush. This is up there with the best, and don’t let any scardy cat tell you any different. ;-)

Joel
July 18, 2012 at 10:22 pm

took me a few listens to ”get it” and now I am passing the good word (and my purchased CD) to encourage others to purchase……good mix of rock and acoustics….Joel

Ivan H
July 15, 2012 at 8:54 pm

Incredible record!!! “The Anarchist”, “Halo Effect” and Carnies” are just INCREDIBLE!!! Their best work since “Vapor Trails” and “Presto”. This is a complete and satisfying effort – after the very flat and angry “Snakes & Arrows”. Amazing to be ROCKING like this at this stage of their career. Just…. wow!!!!

Paul
July 11, 2012 at 1:14 pm

I´m overwhelmed by the killer bassline on The Anarchist!

JustSayNo
July 9, 2012 at 7:30 am

Counterparts ?? the album which made the “wrong moves seem right” ? with Alex still exclusively on those paper-thin sounding PRS guitars ? and Neil’s drums with the annoying 80s/90s over-gated snare…?… ugh!! I am 52 and I’ll take Geddy’s vocals on this album over EVERYTHING he recorded in the 90s. Counterparts was necessary to get where they are now, but no need to go back. Clockwork is closer to how Rush was when I was a teenager, and the difference is the smoothness of Geddys vocal melody singing the lyrical content. They MUST perform this album front to back uninterrupted. That in of itself will be extremely new for Rush, and they very well could win a grammy with this album! Linkin Park’s new album will contend but it has more auto tune on it than musicianship.

Chrisitne
July 8, 2012 at 3:55 pm

I LOVE this album !!!! I am also completely addicted to it. Love Headlong Flight, Clockwork Angels, BU2B, but my favorite has to be The Garden. Totally beautiful song. These guys are by far the most amazing and talented musicians of our time. I have myself some VIP passes for the LA show on my birthday !!! Can’t wait.

Andy
July 6, 2012 at 12:21 pm

I can’t stop listening to The Anarchist

rudil24
July 8, 2012 at 1:31 am

+1

donnaliens
July 2, 2012 at 5:01 am

Nice review of a great album. Although I think you should have mentioned
“The Wreckers”, which to me has the most memorable chorus of any track
on the album. Good to see a review from someone who knows something
about the band. Thanks.

BIRD TIRD THE THIRD
June 28, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Foe three gentelmen they make other bands sound like marching bands.Neil is the best song writer ever. For geddy lee to dedicate the start of vapor trail trails tour as a tribute to JOHN ENTWISTLE ( THE GREATEST BASSEST EVER ) is a complement to him. No of there albums are bad. ( GET A GRIP)

John Waters
June 28, 2012 at 1:09 am

Good review. This is a fantastic album and like many others, it took a few listens before it really hits you and when it does you realize this is a masterpiece.

Gerard
June 26, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Tim, I agree. The more I listen the better it gets. Even my wife is listening.

chawser
June 26, 2012 at 3:39 am

Hmmm. Counterparts. Listening to it now, it’s bringing back memories of how I remembered Rush as a teenager. I think Geddy and the Band need to revisit Counterparts for 2012+. It’s a GOOD sound. Kudos on the new album “Clockwork Angels”. My favorite on one pass though is “Headlong Flight”. It’s always great to hear new music from your heroes. “Love you Guys”!

Brian Gaddy
June 24, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Come on man , you along with others picked Wish Them Well as an essential song !? It Sucks for them, they always have a “Dog” on each CD ! Although I love it and it is better than everyone else, why do boneheads like you always pick a song that has 10+ others that are better on the CD. Wait Let me guess…….You listened to it once!?

humblefish
June 25, 2012 at 5:35 pm

what always fascinates me is how a song can evoke both sides of the “how good it is” argument……I love that shizz….

Brian Langford
June 24, 2012 at 12:04 pm

This album is moving. Enthralling. It flat HITS! I don’t recall a Rush effort this edge since Counterparts, some 19 years ago. As always, Neil’s storytelling, coupled with the virtuosity of the three instrumentally, is gold. And Geddy’s vocals have tamed some, but I am VERY impressed with his work here. The music is tight, using Rush’s signature numerous time and key signature changes constantly. The track that really moves me the most is the last one, The Garden. Peaceful, at ease, it so eloquently puts a neat bow on the story, starting out soft and crescendoing to a magnificent climax.

Best effort in years! I’m a 20 year veteran on the Rush train, been to a lot of shows, and my children are as well. I played this for my daughter this morning, and she was blown away.

Brian Gaddy
June 24, 2012 at 9:21 pm

You said it = The best since Counterparts!!!

dave k from lakeside
June 23, 2012 at 9:05 pm

This album is typical of Nick R. produced Rush. It lacks the elegance Brown and Collins brought out of them, but has the WWE wrestling sound–like a giant stomping through a village. Heavy stuff.

dave k from lakeside
July 21, 2012 at 4:11 am

Secondly, there are no jazz elements in Nick R. Rush — this could shorten the life of the tunes. Will Armor and Sword and The Wreckers enjoy a crazy long life span like Red Barchetta and The Analog Kid have?

Tim
June 22, 2012 at 3:18 pm

I think The Garden is the best song on the cd, maybe their ultimate masterpiece of songwriting.

kriselda gray
June 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm

It is an amazingly, stunningly beautiful song. I love their harder stuff – especially the stuff that clearly as a stronger influence from Alex – but “The Garden” is just extraordinary!

Dave
June 22, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Unbelieveable album. Probably not their “highest achievement,” but definitely among the top ten anyway. But I don’t think I really want Rush to write and record a definitive album. There’s nowhere else to go from there and I want to see these guys stick around for a good number of years to come since they can obviously do it.

Kris
June 22, 2012 at 9:11 am

Totally addicted to this album. These guys still blow other bands out of the water with their firepower and smarts, and yet come off as completely down to earth and modest in interviews — just old friends having the time of their life. What’s not to love?

john
June 22, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Yup. Halo Effect is just stunning

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