Clockwork Angels, by Rush

61-clockworkangels

Released June 12, 2012

1 hr, 6 min, 40 sec

Like most bands that have been around for nearly forty years, Rush’s studio output has slowed considerably in the 2000s, with only two studio albums being released in that entire decade. They’ve settled into a five-year cycle, with 2002’s Vapor Trails being followed by Snakes and Arrows in 2007, and most recently with 2012’s Clockwork Angels.

Rush is a band that has never been afraid of experimenting, of tweaking their sound and instrumentation to see how it turns out. The 1970s were dominated by lengthy, fantastical prog-rock epics; the 1980s were all in on synthesizers, to the point of Alex Lifeson’s guitar nearly being forced out; the 1990s were a return to a harder rock sound, Lifeson taking center stage musically once more. The 2000s, by comparison, were characterized by two attempts at contemporizing the band’s sound, to varying success.

It remains to be seen what the 2010s will be remembered for in terms of Rush’s studio output, but Clockwork Angels feels very much like a return to form, a callback to the sort of interesting storytelling that made Rush’s 1970s output so compelling. Clockwork Angels purports to be a loosely structured concept album, following the protagonist’s journey for knowledge and enlightenment. The album paints a loosely-defined picture of an interesting world with distinctive sights laid out in each track. It’s some of Neil Peart’s better lyrical work, particularly when taking into consideration that sometimes, he’s just not that great at writing songs, and has his head too far up his own ass once in a while.

The most striking thing about the album, however, is its music. One could say this has always been the case about Rush – while many critics have taken the band to task for their lyrics, no one has ever spoken badly of the trio’s musical prowess, because to do so would be stupid and incorrect. Lifeson, Peart, and frontman Geddy Lee are three of the most talented rock musicians in the world, and they pull no punches on Clockwork Angels, writing some of their hardest-hitting rock tracks ever. All three instruments are aggressive and loud, but not at the expense of dynamics. Rush has never sounded like such a heavy band as they do on this album, and it’s fantastic (“Headlong Flight” is probably the greatest example of this, being nine minutes of pure power).

One of the most interesting things about this album – and its accompanying tour – is the inclusion of an orchestral section that appears on several tracks on Clockwork Angels. Rush has not been averse to using outside musicians before, but none have received as large a spotlight as the orchestra that adorns “Halo Effect” and “The Garden,” especially considering that this orchestra, which joined the band for some of the Clockwork Angels Tour, are the only musicians to ever play alongside Rush in a live setting, as Rush has always prided themselves on not needing additional musicians to create note-perfect live renditions of their songs.

Rush’s legacy has already been cemented, with classic albums like 2112 and Moving Pictures that will never be topped by any of the band’s future output, for a variety of reasons. However, even forty years removed from their debut, the band continues to demonstrate that they do not suffer from the irrelevancy of many of their contemporaries; Rush remains one of the greatest rock bands of all time, and its members continue to assert their dominance in the world of rock music.

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