Clockwork Angels review by Rush

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  • Released: Jun 12, 2012
  • Sound: 7
  • Lyrics: 8
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reviewer's score: 7.3 Good
  • Users' score: 9.6 (173 votes)
Rush: Clockwork Angels
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Sound — 7
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.

Lyrics — 8
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".

Overall Impression — 7
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.

53 comments sorted by best / new / date

    RUSH is GOD2112
    i think a lot of people are upset that there isn't a real 'stand out' song. but i like to think that the album's a story, that no one piece should stand out, but as a whole album, it's a pretty engrossing story. to me, to really appreciate it, you have to take it as a whole. and that's what i like about it.
    willetts666
    JonBon_Ramboni wrote: I'm from Canada and I hate Rush.
    And this contributes to the conversation in what way? Anyway, I enjoyed the album. Good lyrics and a good concept. Glad Geddy isn't pushing his voice as high as he used to because it can still work really well as shown on this album. Think after a few more listens this may become one of my favourite albums by Rush
    BDH2112
    Great album I loved it felt it had a lot more energy than snakes&arrows, The Garden is a beautiful ending btw
    RndyW0
    If anyone doesn't think that Caravan is either the best or one of the best on this album I will be extremely surprised. Rush are still basically as good as they were years ago
    L2112Lif
    travislausch wrote: RUSH is GOD2112 wrote: i think a lot of people are upset that there isn't a real 'stand out' song. but i like to think that the album's a story, that no one piece should stand out, but as a whole album, it's a pretty engrossing story. to me, to really appreciate it, you have to take it as a whole. and that's what i like about it. As stated in my review, there are actually "stand out" songs. That's precisely the problem I have with the record. There are three really good songs, and the rest of the album is plodding AOR garbage whose self-plagiarism borders on the wholly uncreative. It's like Rush forgot how to be unique.
    For an album that appears to be a narrative which runs parallel to the career of Rush, I'd forgive them for quoting themselves. Stop being so sour, its a solid album.
    Uncle Manwich
    In my opinion Rush is one of those bands that just always makes great music. They've never had any bad eras, only different eras.
    rocker222
    ProgJazzMath wrote: Wow. You guys downrated all my comments pertaining the beastie boys. Lol. Idiots.
    would you like us to flag your comments as spam?
    vppark2
    RUSH is GOD2112 wrote: i think a lot of people are upset that there isn't a real 'stand out' song. but i like to think that the album's a story, that no one piece should stand out, but as a whole album, it's a pretty engrossing story. to me, to really appreciate it, you have to take it as a whole. and that's what i like about it.
    Exactly. Not one song disappointed in my opinion.
    ibanez124
    Rush still continues to amaze me with their originality and longevity. It is a trevesty that groups such as "The Beastie Boys", who are NOT ROCK by the way, get inducted to the ROCK and Roll HOF. While Rush continues to get snubbed.
    Hegemony
    I absolutely loved "The Anarchist" - brilliant track. I only listened up to that point so far... All of the tracks are amazing. I LOVE RUSH!
    L2112Lif
    TL;DR: You're entitled to your opinion. I'm ticklish where this album hits me, and it hits there hard.
    L2112Lif
    travislausch wrote: There's a difference between self-reference, which is fine in moderation, and what Rush is doing, which is basically rehashing everything they've done since I was born. The last album they put out with any uniqueness was friggin' Counterparts. That was 1993. Every album since has sounded pretty much exactly the same. And the definition of a "solid" album is one that's good throughout. The problem is, there are AMAZING songs like The Garden and the title track, and the rest are mediocre. If they didn't want me to be so sour, they could have tried releasing a truly good album. But Rush is pretty far beyond that point now.
    Counterparts was not particularly unique IMHO, its my least favorite Rush album to date. I also get the feeling that Halo Effect shares more in common with Resist off of T4E. Its a solid album to me because everything works, the pieces fit together and the album rises to become more than the sum of its parts. Its far more commercial than the Rush of old, but there's absolutely enough of the old mixed in to keep me happy. I actually like this sound, and there's enough in there that's unique to keep my tastes satiated.
    Battman1993
    ibanez124 wrote: Rush still continues to amaze me with their originality and longevity. It is a trevesty that groups such as "The Beastie Boys", who are NOT ROCK by the way, get inducted to the ROCK and Roll HOF. While Rush continues to get snubbed.
    You ever heard the Check Your Head album?
    edgeyyz
    This album sounded decent at first, but has quickly grown on me. Great album.
    JPScralatchtica
    Brilliant album! I definitely put it up there with Moving Pictures, 2112, A Farewell to Kings, and Hemispheres! It is an album!...If you don't have the attention span to listen to the entirety, you probably shouldn't listen to Rush. But if I must pick some standouts, I personally loved "Caravan", "The Wreckers", and "The Garden"!
    Iommianity
    EpiExplorer wrote: Iommianity wrote: The Beasties also have one of the first recorded blast beats in rock history. Was it before DRI in 1983?
    Yes. Riot Fight, came out a few years before, but I don't know which song you're citing as I only DRI circa Dealing With It. To be fair, even if I was wrong, I did say 'one of the first'.
    ProgJazzMath
    ibanez124 wrote: Rush still continues to amaze me with their originality and longevity. It is a trevesty that groups such as "The Beastie Boys", who are NOT ROCK by the way, get inducted to the ROCK and Roll HOF. While Rush continues to get snubbed.
    Oh my goodness you are an idiot if you think the beastie boys aren't rock. They stick mainly to rap, but their most recent releases have been jam albums that certainly deserve their induction. Also, Fight for your Right and No sleep till brooklyn ring any bells? How about Sabotage? Some of the greatest rock songs of all time.
    Iommianity
    ibanez124 wrote: Rush still continues to amaze me with their originality and longevity. It is a trevesty that groups such as "The Beastie Boys", who are NOT ROCK by the way, get inducted to the ROCK and Roll HOF. While Rush continues to get snubbed.
    Except for the rock songs they released as a hip hop trio. And the time they spent as a punk band. I think the real travesty is your post. Annnnnyhooo, Caravan doesn't do anything for me, and the vocal processing kind of irks me for some reason. Geddy's vocals have a sheen I don't like. But the title track is ****ing great, and this album has some of the best leads Alex has done in ages.
    K!!LsWiTcH
    ibanez124 wrote: Rush still continues to amaze me with their originality and longevity. It is a trevesty that groups such as "The Beastie Boys", who are NOT ROCK by the way, get inducted to the ROCK and Roll HOF. While Rush continues to get snubbed.
    dude leave the beasties out of this. theyre definitely rock definitely more rock than most of what goes in the hof wildy creative and original and most relevant here is that they are utterly different from rush. i respect rush but fans like you just suck
    EpiExplorer
    Iommianity wrote: EpiExplorer wrote: Iommianity wrote: The Beasties also have one of the first recorded blast beats in rock history. Was it before DRI in 1983? Yes. Riot Fight, came out a few years before, but I don't know which song you're citing as I only DRI circa Dealing With It. To be fair, even if I was wrong, I did say 'one of the first'.
    I searched it up, The beastie boys did it in 1982 and DRI did it in 1983, so BB wins. The DRI track to reference is 'No sense'.
    EpiExplorer
    Iommianity wrote: The Beasties also have one of the first recorded blast beats in rock history.
    Was it before DRI in 1983?
    majesty
    JonBon_Ramboni wrote: I'm from Canada and I hate Rush.
    That's great man. PIcked the record up on vinyl couple days ago. Solid album overall.
    vppark2
    "meh, boring" material and "this is kind of nice but still meh", this track is a good song.
    First of all, does this even make sense? Your review was all over the place man...
    vppark2
    L2112Lif wrote: travislausch wrote: There's a difference between self-reference, which is fine in moderation, and what Rush is doing, which is basically rehashing everything they've done since I was born. The last album they put out with any uniqueness was friggin' Counterparts. That was 1993. Every album since has sounded pretty much exactly the same. And the definition of a "solid" album is one that's good throughout. The problem is, there are AMAZING songs like The Garden and the title track, and the rest are mediocre. If they didn't want me to be so sour, they could have tried releasing a truly good album. But Rush is pretty far beyond that point now. Counterparts was not particularly unique IMHO, its my least favorite Rush album to date. I also get the feeling that Halo Effect shares more in common with Resist off of T4E. Its a solid album to me because everything works, the pieces fit together and the album rises to become more than the sum of its parts. Its far more commercial than the Rush of old, but there's absolutely enough of the old mixed in to keep me happy. I actually like this sound, and there's enough in there that's unique to keep my tastes satiated.
    This is quite an amazing album. The guys really show that they are not getting older, but younger!
    logicbdj
    There is a repeat performance of this interview tonight at 10 PM EST on CBC radio Canada (available through pod cast).
    vppark2
    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.
    Wow, someone is butthurt...way to throw yourself into the bandwagon
    ProgJazzMath
    ibanez124 wrote: Rush still continues to amaze me with their originality and longevity. It is a trevesty that groups such as "The Beastie Boys", who are NOT ROCK by the way, get inducted to the ROCK and Roll HOF. While Rush continues to get snubbed.
    ALSO, Gratitude. Check it.
    Iommianity
    I wish Test For Echoes or Vapor Trails sounded like Snakes and Arrows or Clockwork Angels. As it is, the last two albums are far more interesting and better orchestrated than Vapor Trails, and there's nothing as bad or stupid on the last two albums as 'Dog Years' off T4E.
    travislausch
    vppark2 wrote: 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. Wow, someone is butthurt...way to throw yourself into the bandwagon
    Bandwagon bandwagon/ˈbandˌ wagən/ Noun: A wagon used for carrying a band in a parade or procession. A particular activity or cause that has suddenly become fashionable or popular. Hmmm, the vast majority of comments on this review are gushing in positivity, whereas mine is the only opinion of any human being in the world, it seems, to show a sense of even the remotest disappointment. Doesn't fit the definition! Also, I stand by my opinion of this album. It's a mediocre album with a couple of really good songs and a bunch of second-rate tunes.
    rapprocka1017
    We waited so long for this, but it is a pretty mediocre and boring Rush album. My hope for the next 2112 is gone.
    travislausch
    And I'm not "butthurt". This album would be crap no matter whether it were Rush that made it or any other band. In terms of musical quality, it just doesn't do anything for me.
    travislausch
    L2112Lif wrote: For an album that appears to be a narrative which runs parallel to the career of Rush, I'd forgive them for quoting themselves. Stop being so sour, its a solid album.
    There's a difference between self-reference, which is fine in moderation, and what Rush is doing, which is basically rehashing everything they've done since I was born. The last album they put out with any uniqueness was friggin' Counterparts. That was 1993. Every album since has sounded pretty much exactly the same. And the definition of a "solid" album is one that's good throughout. The problem is, there are AMAZING songs like The Garden and the title track, and the rest are mediocre. If they didn't want me to be so sour, they could have tried releasing a truly good album. But Rush is pretty far beyond that point now.
    Iommianity
    The Beasties also have one of the first recorded blast beats in rock history.
    travislausch
    RUSH is GOD2112 wrote: i think a lot of people are upset that there isn't a real 'stand out' song. but i like to think that the album's a story, that no one piece should stand out, but as a whole album, it's a pretty engrossing story. to me, to really appreciate it, you have to take it as a whole. and that's what i like about it.
    As stated in my review, there are actually "stand out" songs. That's precisely the problem I have with the record. There are three really good songs, and the rest of the album is plodding AOR garbage whose self-plagiarism borders on the wholly uncreative. It's like Rush forgot how to be unique.
    Jujiman
    One thing that I have learned about Rush in the 30 years or so that I have been a fan of theirs is to have no expectations of what a release from them will be like. This one is a great CD. I thought it was totally unique and quite different from anything they have ever done. I felt like I never got the story that Neil was trying to tell, but I loved the songs. The break after the solo in the title track was brilliant. Something totally unexpected by me. Thats what I love about Rush.
    ibanez124
    I guess I should have clarified. I wa not saying the Beastie Boys are not talented. I am just ticked off that Rush still has not made it in.
    jthm_guitarist
    Brandon East wrote: the guitar work is memorable riff after memorable riff.
    Did we listen to the same album? I'm a really big fan of Rush, but this album didn't really stand out to me. IMO sadly their new material in the last 10 years has been quite disappointing. The bass is great, the drums are fine, vocals are declining, song structure is boring, and the guitar is nearly absent most of the time. This album in particular was so wet with miscellaneous instruments that the only song I remember the guitar on is the Anarchist. I basically agree with Travis Lausch's review up there, though I rate it lower.
    travislausch
    Oh, and to rapprocka1017: If you listen to what Rush does, they never do anything twice. That's kind of their thing, being prog-rock and all.
    What? This album is full of "doing things twice". Most of it is self-plagiarized from all their other recent albums. Tell me that half this record isn't blatantly ripped off from Snakes And Arrows. Have you even listened to the two back-to-back?