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Rush - Clockwork Angels CD (album) cover

CLOCKWORK ANGELS

Rush

 

Heavy Prog

3.95 | 1035 ratings

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Stalvern
5 stars

Unbelievable. At 60 years old (more or less), these guys not only put out an album that doesn't suck (which precious few 60-year-olds can boast), but actually stands up to the best of their classic material (which precious few Rush albums after Moving Pictures can boast). I got Clockwork Angels when it was first released two years ago, and it's lost none of its power since then - if anything, it's only gotten better with time.

Vapor Trails played a bit too directly to contemporary (2002) trends after the band's six-year hiatus (there's a reason that it got included in the Need for Speed soundtrack!), and the band sounded conspicuously old on Snakes & Arrows (not a bad album at all, but way too slow and preachy for a band like this), but here, both Rush and their music are practically ageless. This whole album is loud, heavy, and ass-kicking in a way that used to be limited to one or two songs per record - imagine if Moving Pictures had sounded like "Tom Sawyer" all the way through and you'll have an idea of the approach here. Beyond that, Neil Peart has moved back from the topical lyrics of the last few albums and the more abstract subjects of the ones before to good old dorky science-fiction and fantasy... thankfully tempered this time with a healthy autobiographical slant. What would have been a fantastical concept album for its own sake in the '70s is used as a metaphorical and somewhat abstracted chronicle and exploration of Peart's own life and thoughts, and it comes off as personal and sincere, rather than self-important.

The style would be nothing, though, if the songs themselves weren't worthwhile. But they absolutely are! Rush, as a band, have always been plagued by inconsistency - damn near every album has, if not an actively bad song like "Rivendell" or "The Body Electric", at least a few really boring ones (does ANYONE like "Madrigal"?) - but the songs in Clockwork Angels are at worst decently engaging and at best excellent. (I'm not counting the tiny "BU2B" reprise there, but it at least has good lyrics and gets the hell out of the way once it makes its point.) "Caravan" is a butt-ugly (in a cool "Tom Sawyer" way), lumbering behemoth that sets the stage well; "BU2B" picks up the pace and rocks hard with some fantastic vocal melodies; "Clockwork Angels" is towering and grand without losing a bit of energy; "The Anarchist" and "Carnies" are a bit less distinctive but still loud, fun, and memorable; "Halo Effect" provides a nice change of pace with its slower, acoustic feel; "Seven Cities of Gold" treks along on a truly monstrous bass riff (not line, RIFF) from Geddy Lee; "The Wreckers" is speedy, beautiful, and dark; "Headlong Flight", the album's big centerpiece, is an absolute beast and the most overtly prog Rush song since... hell, probably since "Natural Science"; "Wish Them Well" is kinda weak and sing-songy compared to the rest, but still on the fair side of fair-to-middling, especially with its kickass bridge; "The Garden" wraps everything up in a grand, curtain-closing finale, with one of Alex Lifeson's most beautiful guitar solos EVER and a lovely comedown section at the end - EVERYTHING on this album is a keeper. Sorry if it was tiresome to run through every single song, but I really wanted to make it clear - there's no filler on this thing at all (some people might call "BU2B2" filler, but what exactly does one minute "fill" on an hour-long album?), and "Wish Them Well" is the only song that even approaches being a skipper. For any band, that's pretty good. For a band at Rush's age, it's downright impressive. For a band at Rush's age, with Rush's spotty track record, it's a goddamn miracle.

Of course, as great as it is, it isn't a perfect album. It has some expectedly goofy moments (the "steampunk carnival" intro to "Carnies", the villain's "chilled-out" interjection before the jam section of "Headlong Flight"), a couple of underdeveloped ideas (the repetitive chorus to "Caravan" and the relatively thin-sounding bridge to "Carnies" could have used a bit more fleshing out), and not nearly enough '70s prog twists and turns in the songwriting and structures for a concept album about steamliners and airships, but in the face of everything it does right - which is absolutely everything else - it's hard to complain. Lee, Lifeson, and Peart are all at what has to be a peak of their instrumental performance, with the rhythm players pounding away complex-but-powerful bass and drum work and Lifeson shredding out some of the best riffs and solos of his career, and Lee's voice might actually benefit here from its slide into a lower register; the shrieky '70s Lee never had this kind of force to his singing, and even his mitigated upper range is still safely out of my reach. Far from being softened by old age, Rush have honed their craft to absolute masterhood, and they employ it with consummate wisdom. I hope that they have another album left in them, but if not, this would be one hell of a swan song.

Stalvern | 5/5 |

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