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Published: 2012/09/19
by Ron Hart

Clockwork Angels

The great thing about Rush’s Presto was hearing the Canadian power trio leave the synthesizers that were the bane of many fans throughout the 80s (although the likes of Signals, Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows and Hold Your Fire have all aged quite well upon the advent of the synth-pop revival of this second decade of the new century) in favor of the guitar-based sound of their 70s heyday.

However, despite a few standout tracks on their 1989 comeback classic’s succession of 1990’s efforts like Roll The Bones, Counterparts and Test for Echo, the momentum provided by Presto failed to surpass the promise in those follow-up titles. Even through some die hard Rushies swear by them, the more discerning listener might render this Clinton-era trilogy a bit of a snooze, even though songs like “Dreamline” from Bones and Counterparts’ instrumental centerpiece “Leave That Thing Alone” are well worth your time (not so much for the trio’s cringe-worthy commentary on homosexuality “Nobody’s Hero”).

The 00’s fared better for Rush in terms of studio output, as albums like Vapor Trails and Snakes & Arrows saw the AOR edge of Rush’s pre-synth days creeping back into the fore big time. But nothing like the way they come at the listener on their 20th studio LP, Clockwork Angels, arguably Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart’s most visceral material since 1976’s 2112. Not to mention their most thematic on a conceptual level, as drummer and chief songwriter Neil Peart appears to have traded in his Ayn Rand fixation for a storyline seemingly inspired by the dark comic artistry of Alan Moore (and not a moment too soon for all of us progressive liberal Rush fans who have seen the Atlas Shrugged author’s good name sullied being name-dropped ad nauseum by GOP VP candidate Paul Ryan).

“In a young man’s quest to follow his dreams, he is caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos,” explained renowned science fiction author Kevin J. Anderson, a personal friend of Peart’s who penned a novelization of Angels for ECW Press that recently hit bookstore shelves, to the trusted fansite “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.”

No doubt a Rush fanboy somewhere in this world has his nose firmly implanted within the pages of the Anderson book as you read this, picking apart the paragraphs of each chapter and seeing how they correlate to such tracks as “The Anarchist” and “The Wreckers” and deciphering the meanings behind the alchemical symbols on the clock and the time it displays—9:12 if you are curious. However, those Rushies who might not get as nebbish about the trio as some of the most dedicated Cygnus slaves out there but love them for the airtight AOR avengers they are without pretense will easily appreciate Lifeson’s fierce fretwork on Clockwork. Listening to standout cuts like album opener “Caravan” and the epic “Seven Cities of Gold”, it is so refreshing to hear him tear into his custom Les Paul with some of the hottest licks of his career. Meanwhile, the voice of Geddy Lee that Stephen Malkmus wondered about on Pavement’s 1997 college hit “Stereo” has never sounded better on quieter moments like “Halo Effectand “The Garden”, while his fingers are in top form from the thunderous virtuosity by which he attacks his bass on digital lead single “Headlong Flight” and “BU2B”, an instrumental jam every bit as mind-bending as “YYZ” and “Where’s My Thing?”

Despite its veneer as a concept record, Clockwork Angels is—at it’s root—a good old fashioned hard rock throwdown that catches fire in ways the last half-dozen Rush LPs never quite achieved. And that in and of itself was well worth the near 25-year wait.


There are 13 comments associated with this post

Jon September 20, 2012, 20:20:19

I always enjoyed the transitional albums as a refreshing change from their previous works. Some great music came from RUSH’s 80’s period- along with some stuff I choose to skip over. Presto was a great album- however, I always believed more old school fans were dissapointed at the lack of similarity to the vintage 70’s RUSH. To everyone going to the CA tour- if you bring your kids, don’t forget its a rock and roll concert- don’t get alll bent out of shape about the special aroma! RUSH on!!!

Robert September 20, 2012, 09:00:47

It is so interesting to hear views of various Rush fans on the best eras of the band. Yours is one that I’ve never heard before (Presto strong and Counterparts weak? – interesting!). It’s a testament to the validity of all the music this band has produced – whatever era that one loves or hates most, it’s loved or loathed equally by someone else….and so vocally and feverently as well! I am a Rush fan who didn’t like the 2000-2010 output but Clockwork Angels unites Rush fans (positively) like no album since Moving Pictures – and THAT’S a real surprise in the twilight of their recording career.

ColoPaco September 20, 2012, 09:22:47

Ron, you sully an otherwise worthy review with an injection of politics. And before you say “but the band made it so!”, go back and watch their interviews…if there’s one thing they wish the fans to do, it’s to stop reading political views into their songs or straining to dissect percieved messages. Give it a rest – we read music reviews to take a break from 24/7 politics and, you know, read reviews of music…which you do well.

Joe September 20, 2012, 09:25:32

I find it interesting that you say the clock reads 9:12. For me, it’s military time, or 21:12….

VTer September 20, 2012, 09:33:05

9:12 = 21:12 It’s an inside joke. Give it a second, you’ll get it :-)

Craig September 20, 2012, 10:45:30

“(not so much for the trio’s cringe-worthy commentary on homosexuality “Nobody’s Hero”)” That is far from all the song is about. If you actually listened to it maybe you’d get that.

Jon2112 September 20, 2012, 11:08:12

IMO,, Rush from 74-2012 is the BEST!!!!!!!!!!

Famousringo September 20, 2012, 14:40:20

Thanks for saying that Craig. Homosexuality is pretty much entirely beside the point of that song.

Dean September 21, 2012, 17:02:35

Rush, Rand, Romney !!

Kevin September 21, 2012, 18:07:23

Just FYI, the last time Neil Peart made an overt reference to Ayn Rand in his lyrics was about 37 years ago (“Anthem”); he has written many songs about many different topics since then, so I wouldn’t exactly call it a fixation. Having said that, this is a good review of a great new album, and I can’t wait to see their new live show on tour in November. It’s also nice to see the “Presto” album get some love! It’s usually regarded as kind of an afterthought in the Rush catalog, but I would include Presto in my top-10 list of favorite albums by any artist ever, maybe even top 5. But then, my taste in music has always been a bit varied/oddball, with all-time favorites such as Rush, the String Cheese Incident, AC/DC, Acoustic Syndicate, Iron Maiden, moe., the Jazz Mandolin Project, Anthrax, Phish, Dream Theater, Leftover Salmon, Jimmy Buffett, Keller Willams, Umphrey’s McGee, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, etc. etc…

Miles Ellison September 22, 2012, 23:31:40

Counterparts was closer in sound to Rush’s more aggressive ’70s heyday than Presto was.

Dankeroo September 24, 2012, 19:03:30

Good review. I haven’t heard the album yet, but I’m sure it’s awesome. One thing I gotta say though is that Kevin J Anderson is famous, but there are quite few Star Wars fans out there that think the novels he’s written in that universe are the worst is the series. Also, he absolutely ruined the Dune novels. If you read those books, stick to the six originals by Frank Herbert. He was a legit genius.

Chaunce October 23, 2012, 10:15:24

Good article except for the low blow against Paul Ryan, who is a Rush fan I am sure. The politics are bad because you are taking a swipe at half the fans of Rush and that is so uncool.

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