The release of a new Rush album is always cause for celebration among Our People. Progressive, melodic, virtuosic, energetic, verbose, thoughtful – Rush is music for those of us who like to ponder, think, analyse, and discuss as well as rock out. And Clockwork Angels gives fans more fodder for discussion and immersion than any Rush release to date. It’s their first concept release since side one of Hemispheres and it goes all out, with an accompanying novel to be released later this year. It tells a tale of a steampunk world, oppressive leadership, a surreal carnival, flying ocean liners dashed by deceptive lights on the horizon – it’s almost like a Terry Gilliam film has been teased into a musical rather than visual narrative. And it matters: when you take the lyrical and thematic content on board, Clockwork Angels is an immersive experience. And yet that’s not the reason why this is being called the best Rush album since Moving Pictures by so many fans. The reason is, it’s simply good music. Thought Vapor Trails and Test For Echo sounded urgent and energetic? They’re almost naps compared to the power of Clockwork Angels.
Musically, Geddy Lee’s bass seems to drive much of the material, while Neil Peart’s drumming takes some unpredictable, improvisatory turns. Alex Lifeson seems to have found the perfect balance between the riff-driven sound of Counterparts and his more textural work. There are so many complex riffs, snaking lead lines, incredible drum fills and cinematic textures that when the chorus of “The Wreckers” kicks in (“All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary of a miracle too good to be true”), it’s such a musical and emotional release that it’s almost overwhelming, placed at the absolute perfect point in the album to keep you engaged – not just hearing or listening, but participating in the experience – through the remainder of the album.
Yet for all its youthful energy, there’s a gravity to the material which could only have come from a lyricist who has lived through some pretty intense hardships and taken away value from the experience, as Neil Peart has. Ultimately the tale told by Clockwork Angels is one about experiencing the moment and accepting that often the journey is its own destination: no matter where you go, there you are. As the booklet explains in the prologue to “Headlong Flight”: “Thinking back over my life, and telling stories abut my ‘great adventures,’ – they didn’t always feel that grand at the time. But on balance, I wouldn’t change anything.” The conclusion reached by the protagonist in “The Garden” may seem like an obvious one on balance, yet it’s given extra gravitas by what precedes it – within the story itself and the album as an experience.
Clockwork Angels is out now via Roadrunner Records.