REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/24/2012
For about 35 years of my life, each new release from Rush has been a source of great anticipation for me. Trends come and go, styles fade and fall out of favor, but Rush abides. Rush’s 20th studio album, Clockwork Angels, is a hardrocking concept album full of grandiose vision and incredible musicianship.
Angels is a tale of one man’s adventures in a dystopian steampunk universe. In the spirit of many great adventures, our protagonist hops a freighter for the big city, and the tale of his life and times unfolds through eleven masterfully crafted songs. A good litmus test of a successful “concept” album is how do the songs hold up individually? In this case, they all succeed on their own merit. Drummer and lyricist Neil Peart’s typically cerebral lyrical explorations are tempered with a sense of personality and intimacy as he reveals the story though his fictional narrator.
Musically, the band is indirectly answering some of the critics who complain that they’ve lost their edge. They really pull out the stops to make this one of their heaviest albums ever. Geddy Lee’s bass is a thundering presence that drives some of Neil Peart's most intricate and complex drumming ever. Alex Lifeson's guitar is a revelation, sitting at the forefront of every song. He’s playing with a renewed sense of muscle and intricacy on this disc, not to mention with some masterful power riffs and amazing solos. If you’ve heard the early sneak peek tracks “BU2B” or “Headlong Flight,” you know exactly what I mean. The band has truly circled back to become the guitar-centric power trio they were in their youth. The heavy foundation of the album is balanced by some beautiful melodic moments and Neil Peart’s colorful and expansive lyrics.
One thing I like about a Rush concept album is that they don’t bury you in metaphor and nuance. They tell a story in linear, chapter fashion that your average Joe can follow and relate to. No matter how fondly I look upon the band’s earlier progressive works such as 2112 and Hemispheres, they pale in depth and quality to Clockwork Angels. Aside from the far superior recording quality available today, the compositions are more mature and avoid the pitfalls that confound many conceptual pieces. The narrative is straightforward, everyman tale, told through expansive and colorful of vignettes. Peart augments the story in song with some bits of storyline interposed with the lyrics in the liner notes to add some continuity and texture to the song cycle.
Clockwork Angels is an amazing chapter in the band’s legacy. On this masterfully conceived and executed disc, the musicianship of these three gents is a revelation. This album is a stunning, hard rocking revelation that will endure as one of the band’s finest achievements.