Rush has returned with their twentieth studio album, Clockwork Angels! But is it worth checking out? 411's Tony Tumminieri checks in with his full review!
If I were a Rush around 1996, the year the band went on an indefinite hiatus following the personal tragedies in Neil Peart's life, I wouldn't have ruled out a Rush return at some point. But never did I expect this level of superiority…and they have gotten considerably older since then, but I digress. For the first time ever Rush has officially deemed one of their records as a concept album, despite past efforts which consisted of some non-linear themes courtesy of band intellectual Neil Peart.
While Vapor Trails and Snakes and Arrows, post-Peart tragedy albums, delivered in their own unique way, it still felt deprived of the band's progressive trademarks, which is that there is no singular trademark with this band; just a beautiful collection of a varying abundance of sound. I get it, Snakes and Arrows can be seen as the ‘true return' for this band, circa 1980 however. This band is open to all and everything. The albums (Vapor Trails, Snakes and Arrows) weren't as universally sounding and sonically ubiquitous as most Rush outputs…
…fast forward to 2012. Anyone who felt the same way I felt listening to Hemispheres, A Farewell to Kings or even Permanent Waves will surely take in Clockwork Angels akin to the way they would absorb a giant personal keg of Kronenbourg…very well. Picture three guys with multi-platinum records, high accolades who have literally never gave two cents about the practices and standards of this crazy thing called the music industry, and you'll one of the most creative and honest recording outputs the Canadian sphere has put out in some time.
Yes, let's giddy up!
The kick-ass opener:
We were fortunate enough to have Rush release this single in 2010, after 3 years without any new material, and two years shy of the actual album. A nice treat and it was even nicer for them to tour in support of those singles. Sets up what's about to come later on effectively. It is their heaviest piece in quite some time, and a reassuring start.
The obligatory radio friendly track:
Even for Rush though I felt it was a little to fundamental the first time I listened to this track (Rush released this along with Caravan as singles back in 2010). The second time around, once syncing in with the overall continuity of the album, fared much better upon my ears. The song seems to possess an existential nature merely based on the theme of individualism and the pursuit of happiness whilst dealing with the grandiose functions of society and their polar opposites. The song title creates the appeal appropriately designed for a mainstream rock audience. I'm sure they planned out that one. Funny part is it has more depth, layered, and overall more creative than the average stuff being pumped out of the machine.
Clockwork Angels (7:32)
The Prog-galore song (and yes, the title track!):
This is certainly the main course for those who rave for intricate progressive rock compositions, borderline cryptic lyrics and damn fine arrangements all around. The one thing about Rush I feel that can be attributed to their longevity would be the impulse and urge they hold in progressing their sound and even more importantly the confidence they unleash in challenging themselves all while setting the bar higher and higher from album to album.
The Anarchist (6:52)
The defiant piece:
This was certainly the most interesting song in the first half of this album. Nice to see a seven-minute Rush song. It's a little spacey and upbeat which will throw off the average Rush listener…for about 8 seconds. After, it truly feels like 1978 albeit with the modern production values and Geddy's neo-prog vocals which remind of a more contemporary faces such as Matthew Belamy and Steven Wilson. For the most part this was a straight up hard rock song. The compositions take on darker keys and tones which provide a slightly more nihilistic sound…after all the title is ‘The Anarchist'. Pessimists and radicals for the win!
The playful song?
Well the title gives that vibe. The steampunk dystopia setting this album holds puts the central character on a mass journey where one of the stops finds the person surrounded by odd carnies, yet there seems to be some content. Classic Rush is definitely evident in the verse upbeats and syncopated bass playing adding to the already powerful legend behind Rush's rhythm section.
Halo Effect (3:14)
The somber piece:
Title doesn't any more ‘proggy'…straying attention away from songs titles seems imminent. This was a nice little acoustic heavy piece akin to Different Strings; short, melancholy and a tad inspiring. No matter how murky or dark toned a Rush song may sound; Geddy has this power where he can implement optimism and a sense of hopefulness.
Seven Cities of Gold (6:32)
The second half of this album signals a foray into heavy, modern rock Rush with an underlying presence of nostalgia. Reminds me of something that could've gotten away with appearing on Test For Echo. The bass drive really stands out here from get go at the amazing intro and the bass attack goes further and further It sounds like he's actually beating the hell out of it. Funny in contrast with the poppy feel the chorus provides…melodic galore.
The Wreckers (5:01)
The arena rock piece:
The really great thing about these guys is that they can literally venture into all forms of rock and popular music. Be it as it may where reviews are sometimes mixed at best, the remains confident and firm in their convictions no matter what they do (metal, new-wave, reggae, pop). They haven't ventured into chameleon mode over the last couple years but considering their ages, I'm happy where they are at now.
Headlong Flight (7:21)
The "classic Rush" song:
Perhaps the album's strong point. A real bone treat for early Rush fans and a stellar trampoline for new ones. Words...what words?
The little filler:
A bit odd, for a sequel track I thought, till I heard it. Orchestra was a nice touch. Wonder when, or if it had ever been done before by the Canuck Trinity?
Wish Them Well (5:26)
The "fun-Rush" song:
…and of course it was a lead in track. While I don't want to say this has any true weak points, this is the closest it would get. Still a nice head bopping tune with the every so friendly familiar sound Rush spills out.
The Garden (6:59)
I was really hoping for an epic ending with copious amounts sections, strong arrangements and layered productions with bombastic sonic boom…Was that achieved? Nah. Do I care? Not really. What makes Rush so unique and popular is their reluctance to stick with a specific style. We get where there at right now, but where will that lead to in a few years?
The 411: Well I was certainly happy with that one. Very happy. Happy enough to dish out $150 when they come to town but due to monetary concerns is not a viable option. While Snakes and Arrows shows Rush attempting and gaining a new style, Clockwork Angels is the full on unraveling of new approaches and ways. Essentially 5 years in the making but we can safely say Rush has officially opened up a new chapter in their longevity-inspired history. Rush's first official concept album is indeed a true treat of linear and musical consistency.