CD Review: Rush - Clockwork Angels
All Access Review: A-
|Rush - Clockwork Angels 2012|
Revolution is in the air again for Rush, lo these many years since the people of the Solar Federation were freed from 2112’s dystopian, artless existence and the fascist Priests of the Temples of Syrinx were removed from power. Flexing his literary muscles, Neil Peart spins an epic yarn of adventure and wonder throughout the new Rush sci-fi concept album Clockwork Angels, a work of grandiose progressive-rock architecture that’s suffused with steampunk imagery and traffics in many of the same themes that dominated 2112 – namely, the insidious nature of repressive, totalitarian rule and the subtle erosion of individual freedoms that occurs under such governance. Somewhere, Ayn Rand is … well, barely cracking a smile.
Peart’s protagonist is a boy who fantasizes of escaping a peaceful, idyllic rural paradise to explore the world and find the famous City of Gold: Cibola. “I can’t stop thinking big,” the child exclaims in the mystical chorus to “Caravan.” Neither can Rush, apparently. A wonderfully constructed maze of rampaging, complex riffage, melodic magic and quick-shifting rhythms and tempos that introduces Clockwork Angels, “Caravan” rolls on into the roaring maw of “BU2B.” One of the heaviest tracks Rush has ever produced, along with the grotesquely sinister and oily “Carnies” that also inhabits the record, “BU2B” introduces us to the Watchmaker, the supposedly benevolent dictator whose orders are carried out by the Regulators, the suppliers of energy to a populace taught to “believe in what we’re told.” Is the narrative starting to sound familiar? It should.
As our hero encounters a dangerous anarchist, joins a carnival, finds love and loses it by idealizing “a goddess, with wings on her heels” in the tender and reflective “Halo Effect,” and then survives a desert of extreme cold and snow only to narrowly avoid death in a disaster at sea, Rush builds strong citadels of sonic grandeur and intricate machinery on Clockwork Angels. From the sublime acoustic artistry and sweeping, gorgeously arranged strings – erected by arranger/conductor David Campbell – of “Halo Effect” to the swirling mystery and renegade guitars of “Seven Cities of Gold” and the big-hearted emotions and dramatic swells of “The Wreckers,” Clockwork Angels is both beautiful and majestic.
Alex Lifeson’s fretwork is breathtakingly here, balancing expressive solos with the desire to sculpt the muscular, driving riffs of “Headlong Flight” and weave acoustic gold in the delicate, affecting dreaminess of post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd in “The Garden.” Pushed to the forefront, Lee’s bass is propulsive and elastic, contorting itself into impossible shapes, all the while never letting the integrity of the song be compromised. And as for Peart, his wizardry has never been more potent or as unpredictable, that technical precision of his always one step away from devolving into controlled chaos. Witness the dizzying instrumental passage near the end of “Caravan” to get an idea of just how incredibly powerful and dynamic the trio’s interplay can be when Rush is at the top of their game. If not for the overwhelming production values actually weakening the sound quality and clarity of the record rather than strengthening it, Clockwork Angels might be deemed one of Rush’s finest albums, even if the threesome, on the rarest of occasions, appears slightly tentative and uncertain as to how to take songs to the next level. As it is, Clockwork Angels is still undeniably a classic.
- Peter Lindblad