So the time has finally come for the latest release from Canadian progressive rockers Rush. Rush has been around for nearly 40 years now, and even though it has been 5 years and 2 tours since their previous studio album, the band is stronger than ever, bringing in their most progressive sound since 1984's Grace Under Pressure. With Clockwork Angels, Rush has ventured into new territory for themselves: the concept album.
The album starts out with two previously released tracks, albeit with slight differences. "Caravan" and "BU2B" were released as a double single back in summer of 2010, and they have become sort of the introduction to this concept album. Although I haven't been the biggest fan of these two songs, the little differences on the album version make them a bit more bearable. "Caravan" is the least changed, although a few things that I noticed include the louder synth parts, some added flange to the bass during the jam section, as well as some more noticeable vocal harmonies. However, the song's chorus of "I can't stop thinking big" is repeated way too many times. "BU2B" has become a different entity now, beginning with a haunting vocal and acoustic introduction. However, the main riff of 2 notes is so mindless and irritating that I drives me mad. Also, the rant on religion seems to be detached from the rest of the story. Additional vocal harmonies are evident in the remix, particularly on the very final line. The track does, however, suffer from the endless repetition that "Caravan" was plagued with.
Finally, the third track "Clockwork Angels" breaks the mindlessness of the first two tracks, and is the true beginning of the album in my opinion. Excitingly, this track's music was written mostly by guitarist Alex Lifeson, which makes it a bit different from the rest of album. Perhaps one of the most progressive songs they have done since Moving Pictures, the song seems to touch on all sorts of time signatures and key changes, which provides for a thrilling piece of music. This is the perfect track to name the album after (or perhaps the other way around). I feel like this could have been a fantastic opener to the album as well. At the 4:25 mark, Lifeson gives one of the best solo he has done on a studio album in a very long time. This solo is followed by a small jazz section which changes the mood completely with the addition of some slide guitar and near-spoken vocals. After a final chorus, the song sounds like it is segueing into another track, but it really goes into a rambunctious 7 second ending. The lyrics, written by drummer Neil Peart as always, begin to develop the storyline more and more, which adds a new factor to the connections between songs.
"The Anarchist" is the fourth track, and I have to say that it possesses one of the best Lifeson solos since "La Villa Strangiato". His use of the harmonic minor scale really creates a middle eastern mood, unlike any other Rush song released. The opening riff is similar to what might be found on 2112, with electric chords instead a straight-away riff. Also, a section at the end of the chorus goes completely out of a minor key to a major key, which is funny sounding, but awesomely executed by bassist Geddy Lee. The track segues right into "Carnies", which is an all out rocker. After some sound effects like laughing and typical carnival background noises, Alex brings in one of the heaviest, dirtiest sounding riffs ever imagined by him. Throughout the song, various synth lines play with Alex and Geddy often mimicking them. The chorus has one of the best chorus sequence with a great ascending line that hits a note out of the scale before finally resting on the satisfatory note. Much like "Caravan", this song has a middle jam section, although it is a bit shorter. Neil starts getting intense on his toms before Alex plays a "solo" which plays a melody that the vocals follow.
"Halo Effect", the second shortest song on the album at just over 3 minutes, rounds off the first half of the album. This is one of my lesser favorites, as it merely sticks to a simple structure of verse-chorus. The acoustic guitar is reminiscent of something that might be on 2007's Snakes and Arrows. In the end, this song really just seems like a modern pop song, although some orchestration during the chorus adds a unique touch.
"Seven Cities of Gold" brings the raw energy back into the album with an opening bass groove and some epic Peart drum fills, uncluding some cow bell. Alex gets things fired up with a mini solo before a riff-rock explosion begins. The verses seem to follow a pattern similar to Zeppelin's "Black Dog" with each line followed by the main riff, although not so choppily. A bridge section brings a focus on the lyrics for a brief moment before the lackluster chorus. The chorus is very simple and has an obvious and overused chord progression. However a bar of 7/8 during the second half of the chorus makes it a small bit more exciting. At the end of the chorus section, we get some Geddy wails before the main riff enters in again for the second verse. After another repeat of the chorus, Neil begins an interesting groove with a fuzzy Lifeson playing over Geddy's funkadelic bass lines. This song seems to be very repetitive, which is excessively detrimental to my impression of the song, although the main riff is quite interesting.
Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson change things up a bit on "The Wreckers", with Lee playing guitar and Lifeson playing bass. While the initial concept is cool, the songwriting suffers with a very conventional and obvious structure. A simple main riff following a D major progression that Alex has been doing for years is very boring. However, the verse mood (albeit only two chord) is better, with a tense and surreal feel. The chorus, although sing-songy, isn't that bad. It is reminiscent of "Faithless" from Snakes and Arrows with its commercial sound and catchy chorus. Finally, the middle section goes into a more intense mood before swelling up with orchestra into the final chorus, which features a nice guitar solo, which gets cut off by a fade-out (one of only two on the album, thankfully). While not awful, this is probably one of my lesser favorites on the album. "Headlong Flight" comes next, and even though it was released a month or so ago, it still hits hard. Much better than the first two singles from the album, this song really packs a punch in its 7 and a half minute glory. However, in the course of the whole album, it begins to feel way too repetitive with its structure. Still, the mini drum solo, Necromancer- like narration, wah-wah guitar solo, and Geddy's most fervent bass playing on the album all make this song a great one.
The shortest song on the album "BU2B2" is strangely one of my favorites. The lyrics, comprised of a similar rhyme scheme that Neil used on the first "BU2B", are hauntingly sung by Geddy over orchestration. "Life goes from bad to worse," he sings. This is the most depressing song on the album by far, but the fact that Rush has never ever done anything whatsoever like this draws me back to it again and again. This tense atmosphere is interrupted by "Wish Them Well", my least favorite song on the album. The song is just a simple verse chorus pop song with cliche lyrics and chord changes. However, the bridge section after each verse is pretty cool, with a 6/8 bar followed by a 4/4 bar. This also is one of the few songs on the album with the much disliked "Geddy Choirs". I don't think the overlaying of his voice is too bad, but it definitely sounds like a leftover from Snakes and Arrows. Like "Marathon" from Power Windows, however, the middle section of the song seems to provide some more interesting sections before the chorus is repeated again...and again...and again.
Finally, the album ends with one of the greatest endings to any Rush album, "The Garden". The intro features a bass line with orchestration overtop, with the orchestration appearing throughout the song. Alex comes in on acoustic in a fashion similar to "Resist" from Test For Echo for the first verse, followed by a chorus laden pre-chorus. In fact, it sounds like Lifeson might even have broken out a twelve string! The intro bass line and orchestration follows before Neil creeps his way in for the second verse. Geddy sings heartfelt about the protagonist's view on everything that has happened in the course of the album. During this song, it is evident how awesome Rush sounds with an orchestra. After a repeat of the the twelve string guitar part, there's an appearance of a piano line unlike anything on any other Rush album. When was the last time you heard real legit piano on a Rush album? After Geddy sings a line that builds up with cellos underneath, a swell brings the whole band back in with Lifeson giving one of the most emotional solos he's ever given. Neil's drums keep the beat nice and clean, seeing that the mood doesn't need a bunch of bashing or loud drum fills. After the solo, the band goes back into the chorus one last time, this time with orchestration at full bore. Finally, Geddy sings the last line and the band stops as one lone cello note rings out for the final few seconds.
After my first listen, I was absolutely speechless about the album. I couldn't comprehend how amazing it really was, unlike any other Rush album released. Truly a gem, especially for the 21st century, Clockwork Angels truly will go down as a Rush classic.
What do you call an alligator in a vest? An investigator.