Released: Jun 12, 2012
Genre: Hard Rock, Progressive Rock, Progressive Metal
Label: Roadrunner Records
Number Of Tracks: 12
"Clockwork Angels" is the 20th studio album released by legendary Canadian prog-rockers, Rush. Since the release of their first album 38 years have passed, which means they've been playing together longer than the vast majority of the audience of this review have been alive, and this release has still been highly anticipated by myself and millions of other Rush fans.
travislausch, on june 12, 2012 5 of 15 people found this review helpful
Sound: Rush return with their millionth studio album, "Clockwork Angels", the follow-up to 2007 smash hit, "Snakes And Arrows". "Clockwork Angels", on paper, seems like the album Rush fans have been waiting for since the early 80s: guitar-centric progressive rock concept album and a return to the sound of their 70s albums. Okay. It is very guitar-oriented, and I'll even give it "prog", but it sounds nothing like "2112"'s classic metal groove, or "Hemispheres"' chordal madness. There's pretty much no synth on the record. For the most part, the songs stick to one time signature (exceptions being "Caravan" and "Headlong Flight").
Other than that, it's pretty much "Snakes And Arrows Part 2". The guitar grooves are slow, atmospheric, the bass carries more of the melody, the drums are pretty decent but not bombastic like classic Rush. Geddy's vocals are still low like they have been for the last couple decades.
The album opens with two tracks you're already familiar with. "Caravan" doesn't get much of a facelift for "Clockwork Angels", presented pretty much exactly the same way as it was released two years ago. "BU2B" (which stands for "Brought Up To Believe") has a new intro simply tacked onto it. When we get to the third track, it finally feels like we're listening to a new Rush album. And it's a great track, with a ton of instrumental layers and interesting chords. There's a brief "blues" section in the track which is just really cool, and I wish it had lasted longer. "The Anarchist" brings us back to the late 70s a bit with a riff that sounds like it could have been lifted from "Permanent Waves". The end of Alex's solo is really cool with its Arabic scale.
Alex has always been an influence on me as a guitarist, but if this were the only Rush album I had discovered, I would change that, because his playing is kind of mundane on this record. He just doesn't crank out many riffs or solos we haven't already heard a thousand times from him.
"Carnies" continues from the pace of "BU2B", a hard rocker with low E5 chords. The chorus is deliciously atmospheric. The bridge/solo section sounds like every other Rush song of the past decade, though. "Halo Effect" is the first track where things get a little different. Here, we're treated to an acoustic ballad that would not sound out of place on just about any album by any alt-rock band of the last thirty years. The chorus is, well, remember "Armor And Sword" from "Snakes And Arrows"? Sounds like the same progression/style. Like, a direct ripoff. And then Alex busts out the mandolin for the solo... Which sounds exactly like another mandolin solo on their previous record. "Seven Cities Of Gold" redeems itself a bit by opening with one of the most funky bass riffs I've heard from Geddy in a long time. The rest of the song suffers from the same plodding self-plagiarism that the rest of the album faces, but that intro bass riff was nice.
"The Wreckers" is actually so poppy that it's one of the most lovable tracks here. The chorus is just wonderful. I know, I've been talking crap up to this point, but there are still great moments like this on "Clockwork Angels". But that chorus melody is so Rush-like, yet so... Un-Rush. We follow this nice diversion up with "Far C-"... I mean "Headlong Flight". When I first heard this song, I hated it. They pretty much aped the "Bastille Day" riff, tacked on "Far Cry"'s E5 chords, and made a pastiche of a "Permanent Waves" guitar riff, let Alex wank mindlessly for a minute, and called it a day. Three riffs. Seven and a half minutes. Nothing new or original. Next. "BU2B2" is a string-driven interlude with the melody (sort of) from "BU2B". Another one of those "cool diversion" tracks that is ultimately way too short. "Wish Them Well" continues the style of pretty much every other song on the album, which if you've heard any Rush album since "Roll The Bones", needs no explanation.
Finally, we made it to "The Garden". This song deserves its own paragraph. Hell, it rightfully deserves its own review. While up to this point, we've only had "meh, boring" material and "this is kind of nice but still meh", this track is a good song. A legitimately good song, and something different for Rush. There's not much precedent for this song in Rush's discography, except maybe "Resist" from "Test For Echo", but even that song isn't very close. This one is a dark acoustic ballad. The only sad song on the record. The whole song is just beautiful. Even though the verses sound pretty generic, they blend with the rest of the song well and don't drag the quality of the song down with it. The piano adds a lovely touch. Even Alex's solo takes on a somewhat more anthemic quality than his other solos on this record, which all just feel like he had an uncreative day at the studio and decided to just play "anything". It's the perfect closing track for a concept album by Rush.
Production-wise, there's little to complain about here. Everything sounds clean and clear, though the guitar is quite hard to make out sometimes, but that's just due to the fact that Alex keeps his high B and E strings open for about 97 percent of it. The bass is quite upfront on this record, and Geddy wastes no time in playing the crap out of it. Neil's drumming sounds great after all these years, but it seems like he's no longer interested in being the "best drummer in the world". Which is fine by me, he's already proven himself a million times over. Sound gets a 6.5 or 7 out of 10 for me. // 7
Lyrics: Lyrics tend to be one of Rush's strong suits, naturally. What may intrigue listeners is that this is the first FULL concept album from Rush. Yes, yes, I know, they flirted with story concepts on all their 70s albums. But those were single tracks on albums with other songs that had no conceptual connection. This one is a full narrative story. I think. Reading the lyrics gives a sense of theme, but doesn't really feel like the band is shoving a narrative down our throats. The closest we get to that is in tracks like "Caravan":
"In a world lit only by fire
Long train of flares
Under piercing stars
I stand watching the steam-liners roll by
The caravan thunders onward
To the distant dream of the city
The caravan carries me onward
On my way at last, on my way at last"
I mean, honestly, why else would one sing about steampunk blimps? The concept of the album has to do with a person who just wants to live his life free, to the fullest, while some dictatorial guy known as "The Watchmaker" imposes precision and order on this steampunk world. But some of the lyrics, like a lot of Rush's work, can be taken out of context and mean something completely different to someone else, like "BU2B", which introduces the lifestyle in this world of Victorian invention:
"All is for the best
Believe in what we're told
Blind men in the market
Buying what we're sold
Believe in what we're told
Until our final breath
While our loving Watchmaker
Loves us all to death"
But the song also makes a pretty strong case for anti-religious sentiment.
There really are no bad lyrics here. But like the music, you do get the feeling that it's all been done before, by Rush, in the past. I almost would have preferred a character-driven narrative to this, as it would have been different. Geddy's singing is decent. His lower register gets used almost exclusively here, but he does try to reach high notes again, like in "Headlong Flight". But again, it all sounds like recent Rush. Lyrics get an 8/10. Creative as usual, but a bit too "usual". // 8
Overall Impression: Honestly, my overall opinion of this record is lower than I hoped it to be. When I heard things about "epic, multi-parted pieces" and "concept album", I honestly expected Rush were reinventing themselves once again, and not only did they fail on that regard, they gave us "Snakes And Arrows Part 2", complete with no fewer than probably 20 riffs that could have been directly lifted from that album, "Vapor Trails" or "Test For Echo". While there are definitely good tracks on the record, like the genius "The Garden" or the epic title track, for the most part, "Clockwork Angels" is the same old stuff from Rush. For a band that made a point of complete reinvention every few albums or so, it's disappointing to see how Rush has stagnated over the past 15 years. Once one of my favourite bands ever, Rush has become one of those bands I no longer care about. I'm not looking forward to their next album unless it promises to be completely different, with the formula of Rush stripped down to bare essentials and rebuilt completely differently.
So the standout tracks here are definitely "Caravan", "Clockwork Angels", "The Wreckers", and the wonderful "The Garden". Other than that, Rush are the best King's X tribute band out there right now! Overall impression of the album is 7/10. Good effort, but nowhere near the epic scale of past Rush albums. I even put up with "Snakes And Arrows", because I believed that "Clockwork Angels" would put it in its place. Rush may not have lost a fan because of it, but I'm certainly no fanboy anymore. Rush, you guys had better absolutely wow me next time. // 7
UG Team, on june 12, 2012 3 of 6 people found this review helpful
Sound: Rush has been around a while and have a proven track record as awesome musicians, songwriters and performers. After being together as a band for 6 years, they released their first album in 1974 and after this point experienced no personnel changes. Neil Peart is the least tenured member of the band with only 38 years as a member while Geddy and Alex each have 44 years. If you think about it, it is really mindblowing they are not only still a band, they are releasing new material and touring (and not nostalgic tours, but real tours with new songs). Absolutely amazing. Even those few lone individuals who are not fans of Rush have to respect the number of years we are talking about here and Rush's devotion to making new music.
"Clockwork Angels" has 12 tracks and is approximately one hour and six minutes long a respectable length considering we are talking about a band that is simultaneously considered one of the best classic rock and progressive rock bands still active today. While I've read online that Alex Lifeson strongly denies that "Clockwork Angels" is a concept album it does come across like a concept album to me, and it seems it also does to novelist Kevin J. Anderson (a friend of Neil Peart), who has stated that he will be writing a sci fi novelization of the album. I'm certain this will be an interesting novel, with Kevin J. Anderson describing the plot as follows: "In a young man's quest to follow his dreams, he is caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos. He travels across a lavish and colorful world of steampunk and alchemy, with lost cities, pirates, anarchists, exotic carnivals, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life."
The playing on the album is beyond reproach. The drumming is solid, the basslines range from satisfactory to brilliant, and the guitar work is memorable riff after memorable riff. If you are into classic rock or prog rock then this will be the biggest album release for you this year. The sound manages to be pretty diverse while still sounding like Rush. // 9
Lyrics: Geddy's voice is still powerful but maybe not quite as high pitched as it was early in his career. He seems to sing in a slightly lower register which seems natural on these tracks. The delivery is really well done throughout Geddy is a professional. The lyrics are well written, as well, with some really interesting concepts behind the lyrics. As a sample of the lyrics, here are the lyrics from the song "Caravan": "In a world lit only by fire/ Long train of flares/ under piercing stars/ I stand watching the steamliners roll by/ The caravan thunders onward/ To the distant dream of the city/ The caravan carries me onward/ On my way at last/ On my way at last/ I can't stop thinking big/ I can't stop thinking big/ On a road lit only by fire/ Going where I want, instead of where I should/ I peer out at the passing shadows/ Carried through the night into the city/ Where a young man has a chance of making good/ A chance to break from the past/ The caravan thunders onward/ Stars winking through the canvas hood/ On my way at last/ In a world where I feel so small/ I can't stop thinking big". Again, while Alex may have said this isn't a concept album, the songs and lyrics sure feel like a concept album, though all of the songs also seem to lyrically be able to stand on their own. // 9
Overall Impression: This album will be taking up semi-permanent residence in my mp3 player, and is absolutely one of the best releases so far in 2012. My favorite songs on the album are "Caravan", "Clockwork Angels", "The Anarchist", "Halo Effect" and "The Garden". I can't say that I disliked any track on the album. I'm personally an album type of guy instead of buying single songs, and a single song if I dislike it enough can ruin an album for me luckily "Clockwork Angels" doesn't contain any bum tracks. While listening to the album I went back and listened to a lot of songs throughout Rush's career as I was thinking about the actual breadth of time they have been active as a band, and the songs on "Clockwork Angels" don't seem out of place with their existing catalog, but a logical next chapter. I look forward to hearing more new material in the future. // 9
unregistered, on june 18, 2012 0 of 0 people found this review helpful
Sound: It's been 38 years since Rush's first studio effort "Rush", and yet the Canadian trio still manages to stun and amaze with their latest release "Clockwork Angels". As I listened to the album for the first few times, I marveled how a group of musicians nearing their 60's could still sound so modern and play with such precision. "Clockwork Angels" is heads and shoulders above it's predecessor "Snakes And Arrows" musically and lyrically and if I were to judge the band as a whole off only their 21st century efforts, I would say they've reached their peak. Of course, people said the same thing 32 years ago, when they released "Moving Pictures". Unlike previous Rush albums, "Clockwork Angels" doesn't take a sharp turn away from the band's previous style, but rather elaborates on it. The album feels almost like a brief history of Rush, with the very "Grace Under Pressure" styled passages of the album's title song; to the very "Caress Of Steel" feel the album's seventh song, "Headlong Flight" has; all the way to the "Permanent Waves" feel the song, "The Anarchist" has. // 10
Lyrics: Lyrics have always been one of Rush's strong suits, but this album is a masterpiece. Together, the songs seem to tell a story, but apart the songs stand on their own as well; a feat that is a rarity in modern concept albums. Steam-punk themes and mechanical imagery are this Rush album's forte, with a recurring theme that belief seldom triumphs over reality. Combined with singer Geddy Lee's impressive vocal work makes this album more than rock-solid. While he was once compared to a screaming banshee, Lee's vocals have mellowed out with age, and drive home the darker themes of the album better than his younger counterparts' would have. // 9
Overall Impression: "Clockwork Angels" is masterpiece in it's own right. A Deus-Ex-Machina of everything Rush has to offer, that will be very tough to follow. The biggest letdown the album has to offer besides it's short length, is the subtle hints given by the closing song "The Garden" that this may be Rush's swan song, and that makes me a little sad. // 9
Superjuice7, on july 17, 2012 0 of 2 people found this review helpful
Sound: Rush ceases to amaze me. I first got into their music when I was 11 years old (somewhat strange you could say, considering I was born in 1997), and immediately had to know and listen to everything about them. The trio's sound has changed so much over the years, and now going back to some of their earlier musical roots, for a lot heavier music then they were playing in the 80's and 90's, with albums like "Snakes & Arrows" and now "Clockwork Angels", as opposed to "Roll The Bones" or "Power Windows". Another thing that was a first for Rush in "Clockwork Angels" is the fact that it is a concept album, telling a story of a boy traveling across a steampunk world, fighting an evil Watchmaker who is seeking to rule the land. If you haven't listened to the album yet, I strongly suggest doing so. Rush has yet to be anything but perfect in my eyes. // 10
Lyrics: Neil Peart's lyrics have impressed almost everyone I've shown them to, whether it be my friends or my English teachers. The concept of the album seems really cool to me, and his lyrics carry just as much meaning as always, and are still brilliantly written. Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, writing the music for Neil's thoughts, again did an incredible job. All three of them being amazing musicians, writing great music, while still being rather theoretically complex (Just how I like it, haha). Geddy and Alex always take the time to make sure how Neil really feels about the songs he writes, and then reflect his and their emotions on the topic into the music. As for the skills of Geddy's singing, I feel it's a matter of opinion. Some people like it, some don't. Of course, you've probably already guessed that I think Geddy is a pretty good singer, and can still even belt out some Rush classics from the 70's. // 10
Overall Impression: Comparing Rush to another band is difficult. If you were to try, you'd have a easier time separating the phases they went to, and then you could hear the musical influences. An example I usually use is the song "Between Sun & Moon" off of the album "Counterparts". Listening closely, you can hear the influence from The Who in the song, especially during the guitar solo. As for my favorite songs from the album, I usually choose not to pick one. But most impressive? Haha, I find all Rush songs impressive; the level of musicianship in "Clockwork Angels" is as astounding as always. The only thing I would've like to have on the album is an instrumental. I read an interview with Geddy saying that "Headlong Flight" was originally going to be one, but the band decided against it when Neil's lyrics fit so perfectly. Thinking about it, I'd probably prefer "Headlong Flight" with the lyrics rather than without. Other than that, I love the entire album, and have no problems with it. It's definitely worth the money, and I'd buy it again if necessary. // 10