Rush Clockwork Angels- 2012
RMR Album Rating- 10 (Perfect)
Rush took a back to basics approach to their songwriting on their storybook concept album Clockwork Angels. This resulted in a new overall sound fueled by their fiery filled playing, and the outcome is arguably Rush’s best album.
Personally, I can’t call Clockwork Angels my favorite Rush album because I have a nostalgic anchor that has been buried for decades deep in the sands of albums like A Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres, Moving Pictures, Signals, Power Windows, and Hold Your Fire. And, I don’t think there could ever be a wave, even one as powerful as Clockwork Angels, that could move that un-rusted anchor. However, listening to Clockwork Angels objectively, I will say that although it might not be my personal favorite Rush album, I think it is their best album.
The sound of Clockwork Angels really grew out of Rush’s writing process for the album. Rather than building a rigid and structured foundation for their songs, Rush has commented that most of the songs grew out of their jamming sessions, and this is apparent on some of the album’s best tracks, which take the listener through a fluid and unstructured tunnel of mazes filled with searing guitar work, complex bass rhythms, and spiraling staircases of drum mastery. As a result, the songs are longer and more complex– weaving in and out of chaotic stability. The album as a whole is also arguably more energetic than any other Rush album; it is completely relentless from start to finish. The best examples of these jamming style songs are the title track, “The Anarchist,” and “Headlong Flight.” The latter is particularly impressive with its countless twists and turns, starts and stops, and even a drum fill nod to “Bastille Day” from Rush’s 1975 album Caress of Steel.
Click here to listen to Clockwork Angels
Click here to listen to The Anarchist
Click here to listen to Headlong Flight
There’s also “Caravan” and “BU2B.” These two tracks are not quite as extended or epic as the aforementioned tracks, but they have just as much interminable energy as anything else on the album. “Caravan” is the opener, and it sets the core sound for the album right away. “BU2B,” the album’s second track, starts with a slow 1-minute build up. Then, the song quickly kicks in to become one of the heaviest songs on the album. It is another major winner, and its slow intro and build up is reminiscent of the way “Natural Science” starts from Rush’s 1980 album Permanent Waves. (Click here to listen to BU2B)
Another major highlight is “The Wreckers,” which is less heavy and much more upbeat than most of the tracks, but it is unbelievably catchy, and it has an amazing chorus highlighted by one of Rush’s greatest lyrical bridges. After several refrains of the main chorus, Geddy uses his signature falsetto to deliver the vocal bridge of “All I know is that memory can be too much to carry/ striking down like a bolt from the blue.” Those lines are the absolute vocal peak of the album. (Click here, and listen for the bridge at about the 4:10 mark on The Wreckers)
There is not a weak song, or even moment, on the album, but in addition to the intricate instrumentation and vibrant vocals, everything is tied together with a storybook style concept. Rush has done extended concept songs before like “2112” and “Hemispheres.” Plus, they have done full thematic albums such as Power Windows and Hold Your Fire, but they have never done a true story style concept album.
So with Clockwork Angels being their first, they were very careful not to let the story take precedence over the music. Neil Peart stated that the lyrics and the song introductions (which are printed in the liner notes before each song) are really just footnotes to the full story, which is at heart an adventure story that chronicles the travels, many perils, and ultimate discovery of inner peace by the central character. Peart did a phenomenal job of creating a vividly detailed steampunk inspired aesthetic for the story’s setting, and there are many lyrical references to clocks, gears, and even a god-like watchmaker who seemingly acts as the overseer of the fictional world, but the real genius of Rush’s first full concept album is its execution. Not only do the lyrics provide a narrative for the concept, but the musicality of the individual songs is also directly correlated to what is happening in the story. Most of the songs, as mentioned, are chaotic and filled with twists and turns, and these twists and turns tie directly to the “series of misadventures,” “tragedies,” and narrow escapes that the protagonist experiences throughout the story. Ultimately, the story concludes with the protagonist finding inner peace, and the final song on the album also portrays a sense of musical peace. (Click here to listen to the final song on the album: The Garden)
Taking the album’s story as a whole, there are enough plot details for the listener to be satisfied, but at the same time, the album does not tell the full story. Personally, I like that Rush left some details out, as it leaves part of the story open to interpretation, and there is a full-length Clockwork Angels novel coming out in the fall of 2012 that will tell the complete story. Kevin J. Anderson (best selling science fiction author, and long time friend of Neil Peart) will write the novel.
I also want to point out the production of the album. It is crystal clear, and it incorporates very subtle orchestrated string work on many of the songs. Plus, there is beautiful classical piano work on “The Garden.” Much of the production credit should go to Nick Raskulinecz who co-produced the album with Rush. Nick played an integral role in the album’s sound, and he acted as not only the producer of the album but rather the conductor of Rush’s hard rock symphony.
Going back to my opening comments, it is certainly a bold claim to say that almost 40 years into Rush’s career, they would be capable of recording their best album, especially since their back catalog is worshiped by fans and is ranked 3rd in sales behind only The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for the most consecutive gold or platinum studio albums. However, when you take the sum of all the album’s parts like the intricate jamming, the heaviness, the energy, the choruses, the concept, the production, and the subtle orchestration, it equals everything that Rush perfected in the past and adds a current spin to it. Clockwork Angels is a pure stroke of genius; it is an absolute treasure for long-time Rush fans, and it would make a perfect first Rush album for a new fan. Lastly, although it would make a fitting one, I just hope it is not Rush’s swansong.
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