Rush – Clockwork Angels

As my readers may have noticed, in the past two years or so I have refrained from writing reviews of high-profile releases, preferring to direct my efforts to the promotion of albums by bands or artists that do not enjoy (and probably never will) the kind of exposure that Rush have had for over three decades. Therefore, I will avoid a detailed analysis, and concentrate rather on my overall impression of the Canadian trio’s nineteenth studio album, in a deviation from my usual modus operandi.

Though the world might not need yet another review of Clockwork Angels – especially when so many reviewers have already waxed lyrical about it, and in some cases produced dissertation-sized pieces of writing – I am glad to have been asked to offer my own insights, because I have always had a soft spot for the band. Actually, some of their albums rank rather highly in my personal favourite list, even though I differ from the majority of Rush fans in preferring the band’s later output to their mid-Seventies “true prog” period.

When news first leaked about Clockwork Angels being a concept album, the prog fandom went into fits of delight – especially those who had been waiting in vain for the second coming of the Permanent Waves/Moving Pictures double whammy. Now, while the tracklist shows slightly longer running times than most of the band’s releases from Signals onward, no fully-fledged, 10-minute-plus epics are to be found on the album, contrarily to what many Rush fans would have wished. Still, with two songs over the 7-minute mark, and another three approaching it – not to mention the elaborate concept on which the album is based, inspired by the fashionable steampunk aesthetic and translated in stunning visual terms by Hugh Syme’s artwork – Clockwork Angels satisfies, at least in part, the urges of those who have never fully accepted the band’s transition to a more conventional song format.

A very prolific band in the first two decades of their activity, after the 6-year hiatus that followed Neil Peart’s tragic personal losses Rush have slowed down their erstwhile frantic pace. Indeed, the highly-awaited Clockwork Angels comes 5 years after the release of Snakes and Arrows. In some ways, Rush have taken up from where they had left off in what, to my mind, is their most mature album – 1993’s Counterparts – revisiting that deep, muscular sound threaded with melody and occasional hooks. Peart’s thought-provoking lyrics are masterfully interpreted by Geddy Lee’s expressive voice – which over the years has lost its shrill edge, and gained instead in terms of mellowness and maturity; while Alex Lifeson’s guitar weaves through the complex rhythm patterns with its customary blend of atmospherics and raw energy.

What anchors Clockwork Angels to the prog ethos, even more than structural complexity or track lengths, is its erudite nature, rich in literary references – nowhere better exemplified than in closing track “The Garden”, which, in keeping the band’s tradition of wrapping up albums with subdued, almost meditative songs, references the final words of Voltaire’s Candide, “now we must tend our garden.” Interestingly, what in the hands of most other bands or artists would have resulted in a pretentious, overblown mess, in the hands of Rush it becomes dynamic and powerful. “Caravan”, with its staggered, asymmetrical pace, supported by Lee and Peart’s  almost otherworldly chemistry, kicks off the album with fireworks, and the title-track is not far behind in terms of intensity. On the other hand, Clockwork Angels would have benefited from a shorter running time, because – as was the case with Snakes and Arrows – it tends to lose a bit of steam (no pun intended) in its second half.

Even if 2012 has already produced quite a few outstanding releases, Clockwork Angels will not fail to crop up in many personal “best of year” lists. In any case, it refreshing to see an established band such as Rush not resting on their laurels, and delivering an album that, even if not truly pushing the envelope, does not sound like a tired rehash of their previous output. As trailblazers of the contemporary trend for  a streamlined, song-based form of progressive rock, they have been enormously influential, and still manage to sound better than the numerous pretenders to their throne. While Clockwork Angels may not be as life-altering (or likely to convert the unconverted) as some staunch Rush fans seem to think, it is still an excellent album by a band whose creative juices are far from being exhausted.

Tracklist:

1. Caravan (5:40)
2. BU2B (5:10)
3. Clockwork Angels (7:31)
4. The Anarchist (6:52)
5. Carnies (4:52)
6. Halo Effect (3:14)
7. Seven Cities Of Gold (6:32)
8. The Wreckers (5:01)
9. Headlong Flight (7:20)
10. BU2B2 (1:28)
11. Wish Them Well (5:25)
12. The Garden (6:59)

Line-up:

* Geddy Lee – bass, keyboards, vocals
* Alex Lifeson – guitar
* Neil Peart – drums, percussion

Links:

http://www.rush.com

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