Thursday, June 28, 2012


So here it is, the first new Rush album in five years, and their first concept album, ever. It's true! Rush has never released a full album with a unifying concept. Their conceptual projects previously would, at most, consist of one side of an album, as with the classic 2112. I have to admit I was thrilled to hear that the boys had decided to undertake a more long-form project again.

We got a taste of what might be in store quite early, with the release of the first two tracks of this record, Caravan and BU2B as a "single" in 2010, to promote the "Time Machine" tour. I loved those tracks, they we heavy and classic, as well as giving an intriguing glimpse of the themes that would ultimately drive the Clockwork Angels storyline.

Now, I have to admit, I was a little surprised that the album doesn't play more unified. It would be very easy to listen to Clockwork Angels and  just think it was another Rush album, a collection of songs, blissfully unaware of the underlying storyline. Some may be disappointed by that, but, ultimately, I find it a strength. It allows you to sink into each track, and the elements each conveys of the overall storyline.

The storyline itself is nothing overtly complicated. Typical hero's journey stuff. A farm boy moves out into a steampunk world, controlled by a figure called the watchmaker. He works with a traveling carnival and faces insidious pirates, etc, etc. It's rich, compelling stuff if you wish to dig into the album, and not just enjoy the songs as excellent rock music. If you really want to get into it, the novelization, by Kevin J. Anderson, will be available in September (just in time for the tour!).

I have to admit, while some fans are calling Clockwork Angels Rush's best work since their 70's/80's heyday, I'm not completely on board with that. For my money, they've never made a bad album. I could pick my favorite Rush record (Permanent Waves. No, wait! Signals.), but I couldn't pick their best record. I simply think these guys have somehow stayed true to themselves for all these years and continued to write and record songs that always sound fresh, alive, and exactly how Rush should sound in that moment. It's an impressive feat.

There are lots of killer tracks here, but the run from Track 5 to Track 9 is truly amazing. All five of those numbers, Carnies, Halo Effect, Seven Cities of Gold, The Wreckers and Headlong Flight, are classic Rush, heavy, technical and ultra-melodic and catchy. The whole album is great really, but that stretch, in particular, just kicks my ass.

The playing, as to be expected, is impeccable. Bassist/Vocalist Geddy Lee's voice can't quite get to the sort of upper-register notes that used to be commonplace for him, but the guy's sixty. He deserves the right to not destroy his throat, when a lower note works just as well. Plus, I can't hit those note, so what can I say? Guitarist Alex Lifeson is truly on fire on several tracks, with the opening riff of Carnies being particularly awesome. Drummer/Lyricist Neil Peart...well, he's the greatest living rock drummer.

What's interesting is the urgency that seems imbedded into the whole affair. It makes me wonder if there isn't some sense, in fact I know there is, the band has made it clear in interviews, that they can't keep going forever. Peart has said that the band's planned 2 years from now, in terms of activities, and then...we'll see.

I hope they keep going forever, because no other band in the world has proved to be so consistently connected to both themselves and their audience. The time will come when they have to hang up the instruments, as it does for everyone. On that day, the world will be a poorer place.

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