Album Review: Clockwork Angels by Rush

When it comes to the archetype for prog rock no band fits the bill better than the Canadian trio Rush.  For their near 40 year career they have been pioneering exactly what a prog rock band should be.  Going beyond the typical bullet points of the genre such as high level of musicianship, diverse song structures, and a deeper nod in the lyrical department (usually with heavy sci-fi/fantasy and philosophical themes), they really capture what the ‘progressive’ means in prog rock.  Since their start as a blues tinged heavy metal band in the early 70’s their sound has just kept growing and progressing pushing into territories they have yet to explore.  Pushing the envelope is something that has defined Rush, and they have continued to do that non-stop (their 7 year hiatus between 96-02 doesn’t count, the boys needed a small break, especially Neil 🙂 ).  Here we are in 2012 and Rush has hit a major landmark on their career, full length album number 20.  Not many bands can boast that achievement, and those that can most likely don’t have a catalog as solid and prolific as the prog masters. Clockwork Angels sees the band still moving forward with their musical landscape and since this is such a major deal for the band they do a little fan service and make some neat little homages to their previous works along the way.

While remaining excellent albums, Vapor Trails and Snakes & Arrows at times felt like they were missing a little bit of focus that marred them from living up to the pedigree I’ve come to expect from a band such as Rush.  It was a new movement in the bands trailblazing that the band was doing, so all is forgiven.  With what they’ve learned from those outings they’ve now applied to Clockwork Angels and that hard rock trail they started cutting in the early 00’s is now refined, focused, and is buffed up with the bands already established prog sounds.  I’m almost inclined to call this Rush’s best album since 1981’s Moving Pictures.  Yes, it’s that good.

The first thing that struck me about Clockwork Angels is how much punch and drive it has.  The major attribute to that ‘punch and drive’ is how focused the music is focused on the low-end of the musical spectrum.  Between Geddy Lee’s bass and Neil Peart’s toms and kicks the bass here has a more full and fleshed out sound.  I don’t know if this is due to some studio trickery or if it was a conscious decision on the bands part to go more bass heavy (the latter seems more probable to me), but this emphasis on groove really makes this record stand out in their deep repertoire.  This low-end love also give the music more of a heavy metal feel, and my metal loving ears are all over that and it’s great hearing Neil, for as an amazing drummer he already is, really take his drumming into territories he hasn’t fully yet explored.

The next thing that struck me and I had one of those ‘OMG I can’t believe I never realized this before’ moments is that this is Rush’s first full-blown concept album with a fully realized narrative and musical themes.  The story tells of a man living in a dimensional plane different from ours where a clockmaker watches over the society with rigid and tight precision.  The people of this realm are told that their dimension is the perfect one and anything bad that happens to them is because they brought it upon themselves and the fault is all theirs.  The young man, in his attempt to sate his desires of thinking big and follow his dreams and ambitions, eventually leads to the discovery of a tale of order and chaos.  The world that Neil creates with his lyrics is filled with some great imagery with a cool steampunk influence and interesting moral themes.  Being the nerd that I am, all of this is right up my alley and the fact that Rush expanded upon the narrative in the liner notes of the CD was greatly appreciated.  The story is also set to be released as a novel written by Neal Peart with a bit of help by Kevin Anderson.  It’s that cool of a story!

The musical themes revolve around time.  There’s the standard way they use time to create album flow and reference back to different arrangements from earlier in the record, but what really caught me about the theme of time is the one that works its way into the narrative, kinda.  Earlier I stated that the album had many nods to the bands entire musical catalog and that the story makes note of different dimensional planes.  By calling to these different planes of reality with nods to their earlier works they also create the theme of time.  It’s as if the band is showing you that this is what the seed they planted years ago has grown into and it also serves as a connection point of the plane the story takes place on.  Kind of like how “Hey Jude” works in Stephan King’s Dark Tower series.  Maybe I’m thinking a bit too deep into this, but nonetheless, it’s awesome that they were able to create something that made me think like such.  A big win in my book.

To get into specific tracks at this point would be pointless as each one is a stand-out and contains its own unique flavor.  And while each song can be fully enjoyed on its own without taking anything away from the album, this is the type of album you’ll want to set aside 66 minutes for, grab the lyric booklet, and just immerse yourself into.  But don’t be afraid to pop a couple random tunes on while you head out on your way to work or gym 😉  With being able to be enjoyed in one sitting and broken up on the go, the album structure has a lot to offer and makes this already excellent L.P. that much better being able to be enjoyed in multiple situations.

What can I say, Rush has left me speechless with the awesomeness and freshness of Clockwork Angels.  Everything I could ask for in an album is here.  Great narrative and lyrics touching on many themes all at once, there’s the quality musicianship of Rush we’ve all come to know and love, and their new-found love of one of my personal favorite musical tropes, groove.  The musical nods to their previous works has got me going back and listening to their earlier albums (something I’ve been long overdue for (Fly by Night needs a break, lol)) as much as I’ve been listening to the new one, suffice to say, I’ve been listening to a LOT of Rush lately;)  To fellow Rush fans, I’m sure you already have this record.  If not, What are you waiting for?!?!?!  To casual Rush listeners, this is one of those must-own albums up there with Fly by Night, Moving Pictures, and 2112 (take a good look at Clockworks album cover for a neat little nod), get it.  For those not versed in the world of Rush this is a great record and worth every penny and second you spend on listening to it as well as the bands gargantuan back catalog, all of which I highly recommend, especially the 3 mentioned in the preceding sentence, so umm, get to it.  Perfect Score, amazing album, go, now, get it!!!!!!!!  Enjoy!  Peace Love and Metal!!!!!!!


About RiffRaff

Just takin' it easy for all you sinners.

Posted on June 29, 2012, in Album Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. This is really a great album. Sadly, I do not own a lot of Rush. They seem to be the band I know the most without actually own anything from them except for their 30th anniversary album. I think that is going to have to change. Of course, I am not going to buy 20-years worth of material, but a few key albums you mentioned above.

    Anyway, Clockwork Angels just scored really high on my best of list for 2012…

    • Oooo, I forgot to mention Hemispheres above, another key album by them. I’m sure I can keep chiming in with a million more, but those 4 are the must owns IMO. Enjoy your journey into Rush, you won’t be disappointed in the least. Money well spent.

      Glad you are digging the album, I’ve been listening to it nearly everyday since it came in the mail and each spin I like it even more. This is going to be a tough one to beat for best of 2012 for me (I am a bit biased towards Rush too, lol 😉 )

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