Rush – Clockwork Angels (2012)

Posted: June 24, 2012 in Music

There is a certain “way” of doing things in modern rock these days. This batch of unwritten rules has infected music over the last decade, and includes the following orders.

First, make sure the songs carry a simple vocal, chorus, solo, chorus structure. No need for anything to imaginative or over-the-top. Albums will sell on cool videos and mass marketing.

Second, all songs should be between four and five minutes long to avoid losing the listener’s attention. Anything more is wasted effort, as the listener has already clicked ahead to the next track.

Third, the drumming needs to simply play along to the song without too much attention. People want to hear loud screaming and lyrics about booze and chicks. Too much drumming takes away from the message.

Fourth, only have a couple of great songs. No need to give the consumer more than their share of the “good stuff.” Save a few to kickstart the writing of the next album.

Fifth, when running out of ideas for an album, make sure to borrow elements from other “hot” bands and just keep repeating the same lyrics. As long as it’s catchy, no one is really listening to the lyrics anyway. Adding a bunch of background musicians and guest appearances is also a good idea.

And finally, 20 years is a good run in the music biz. If your band happens to reach that milestone, cut the “farewell” album, announce your retirement and find your way to the next phase of your career – reality television or judging American Idol.

The rules are simple, and are expected to be followed. When abided to, success comes pretty easily – radio and media reward those that march in line with vast airplay and concert promotion. I listen to new album after new album of bands that treat these rules like the Bible, following them closer than a recipe for turning water into wine. Even bands that have had an “edge” over the years have eased off their rebellious stance and joined the procession.

Apparently, though, someone forgot to tell Rush.

Fortunately, bassist-vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart know that the best way to avoid creative stasis is to simply be themselves, and in doing so they continue their personal quest to keep music open-hearted and wildly alive. They have always been trend-setters in that manner, and the band’s twentieth studio release Clockwork Angels adds more fuel to the legacy of maybe the greatest rock band ever.

The album is chock full of the band’s signature progressive rock style. A style that includes sprawling arrangements, flowing guitars, and magical drums – all accentuated by Geddy Lee’s unmistakeable voice. Clockwork Angels shatters the rulebook listed above with seven-plus-minute opuses, elongated drum and bass solos, and – of all things – a conceptual approach.

Produced by the band and Nick Raskulinecz (the same combo from 2007’s Snakes and Arrows), The record is built around a story of a young man’s journey towards his dreams, and fittingly, the music comes at you in a succession of images, textures and moods, but the band never hammers a point for too long – they make a case quickly and move on. It’s dedicatedly heavy – swirling around your ears with powerful guitars and rawness – but there’s a warm, human spirit to Rush’s rhythmic approach which – even when the album is at its loudest – draws you in with its feeling and purpose.

But perhaps what’s most impressive about the modern state of Rush is how comfortable they are just being Rush. As epic as they have become, they still find the way to come off as relaxed, confident, personal and dedicated to their craft. And whatever “changes” have come up have been by their own desire – not from rules or pressures or grasps at success.

In fact, the perfect testament to how the band does things on it’s own terms is the process this album took from start to finish. It was two years ago when the band began recording the album, but could only get two tracks completely finished before embarking on a tour that took them through the end of the 2011. The band released those tracks, “Caravan” and “BU2B” in 2010 – and included them here as integral chapters to the story as a whole.

Like most concept albums, Clockwork Angels is best listened to start to finish, but I feel compelled to at least dissect a few of the standout tracks here. The first is the aformention “BU2B.” In it’s 2010 form, it was a bit more of an ass-kicker, but the album version still holds its own with a loud blast that moves into a more subtle, near religious undertone. It is the epitome of what Rush does well, and keeps you locked in to what turn it will take next. It’s not as catchy as songs like “Tom Sawyer” and “Freewill,” but matches the excellence of those tracks with its structure and composition.

The albums title track is also spot-on. As a story-within-a-story, the track is as grand and epic as it gets while avoiding getting in its own way or seeming over pretentious. When you consider the quality of musicians you have working together here, it’s almost impossible to fathom how they can all stay complimentary to each other without stealing the thunder from each other – but that’s always been Rush’s gift – and it appears to be a gift that keeps on giving.

Picking out a winner of the “best track” award on an album this good is difficult, but I’m handing it to “Headlong Flight,” which although buried on the back half of the album defines the band, the album, and the legacy all in one tasty seven and a half minute serving. The song rambles back and forth from powerful to poetic, and Lifeson reaches into his seemingly-bottomless bag of solos and rips out another amazing performance.

But honestly, there isn’t anything here that doesn’t deserve a high rating. I just as easily could go on and on about “Halo Effect,” “Seven Cities of Gold” or “The Garden” as being unforgettable, epic, and amazing. Actually, “amazing” is as accurate of a description that I could give this record. As the band journeys forward into their legacy, it is obvious that they intend to do so with precision, perfection, and performance – while staying true to their ethics and style they have become famous for.

With albums this good, it’s no wonder they remain perched on the throne of progressive rock – a seat they will obviously own for however long they want.

9.5/10

Tracklist:
01. Caravan (5:39)
02. Bu2b (5:10)
03. Clockwork Angels (7:31)
04. The Anarchist (6:51)
05. Carnies (4:51)
06. Halo Effect (3:13)
07. Seven Cities Of Gold (6:31)
08. Bu2b2 (1:27)
09. The Wreckers (5:01)
10. Headlong Flight (7:21)
11. Wish Them Well (5:25)
12. The Garden (6:59)

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Comments
  1. Rush are among one of my favorite bands. I also like your critique of pop music. it is so undoubtedly true. Thank you for your post

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