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Rush

Clockwork Angels

Review by Mike Korn

It's the biggest cliché in the world, but Rush is a band that needs no introduction. Their 40 year career stands with the greatest bands in rock and they have nothing left to prove to anybody. So what do they do? They hunker down and work on the most ambitious project they've ever tackled.

The result is Clockwork Angels and it's almost impossible to describe how huge this record sounds. The production is absolutely massive, creating a wall of sound bigger than anything else Rush has ever done. It's a very heavy and electric record, with Alex Lifeson coming up with a bewildering variety of guitar tones and techniques. Geddy Lee's bass sounds monstrously fat and groovy. It literally made the walls of my bedroom shake. And, as always, Neil Peart's drumwork is flawlessly inventive. While recent Rush albums have backed off the synths and keyboards a bit, Clockwork Angels gives us a rich,layered sound full of keys in various configurations. There is even a piano-driven song and that's something rarely, if ever, heard from Rush.

The concept driving the record is also big. In some ways, it's a step back to the days of Hemispheres and 2112, as Peart conjures up a lifetime journey across a steampunk world ruled by "The Watchmaker" and his mechanical angels. But those expecting a full return to the 70s style of metallic powerchords might be disappointed, because there is a lot of introspection as well and sounds reminiscent of the less bombastic Rush of the 90s. All in all, this album seems to cherry pick sounds from the band's long history as well as tossing in some new approaches as well. It's the best thing they've done in many, many years and fully worthy of their name.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Caravan

A ringing bell signals the start to our journey. A kind of ominous, jumpy guitar riff kicks in, very catchy and heavy. The clarity and depth of the sound is immediately apparent. You can debate endlessly about how "metal" this record is, but the heaviness of Lee's bass is not in question. It propels this whole voyage with a thunderous groove. On top of that groove, Lifeson's guitars really crank loud and clear. On this one track alone, he demonstrates more different tones than some guitarists use in a whole career. "In a world where I feel so small, I can't stop thinking big."

BU2B
This song has one of the oddest intros ever for Rush. It has a ghostly, twangy feel like something from a spaghetti Western. Then it powers into a crushing guitar riff. This is a difficult number to get into, with some jangly dissonant guitar playing and an unorthodox structure. The keyboards play a bigger part and add a cold atmosphere. The title is short for "brought up to believe" and that phrase plays an important part in the story being told.
Clockwork Angels
In a career full of huge and overwhelming songs, this might just be the biggest. That’s not true in terms of length, which is relatively modest, but in terms of sheer density. Lifeson's initial guitar assault is amazingly crisp and metallic...truly heavy but in a different way than most typical metal. The track also features some strong melodies but even these are majestic and epic. There's also a very odd break with bluesy acoustic guitars and Lee singing in a tinny echo. There's more a monstrous bass groove and some fantastic drumming from Neil that all combines to create a real masterpiece of progressive music.
The Anarchist
This starts as a straightforward power rocker that could have come straight from the Permanent Waves area. It's a hard-driving guitar cut that really smokes when it's in its more aggressive mode.  There's an almost Middle Eastern feel to the music in some parts. Man, the bass is so friggin' heavy during the solo section that it will make your rafters shake! This is the album's most "straight up" song.
Carnies
A dirty, bluesy power groove leads us into this thumping cut. There's a feeling of Black Sabbath to that opening groove but the song soon opens up into more of a jangling, progressive romp. I love the airy, phased guitar song on the bridge, where Lee sings "Sometimes the angels punish us by answering our prayers."  Although this song is multi-faceted, it's at its best when it just grinds out heavy rock. This is definitely an album highlight!
Halo Effect
Things cool down here for this short and pretty semi-ballad, which puts the emphasis on acoustic guitar. It almost takes me back to the feeling of "Closer To the Heart.” There are some crunching power chords here, too, but the overall feeling is laid back and the song is appealing in this more relaxed mode.
Seven Cities of Gold
Funky bass and yes, cowbell, set the tone for this one. It's a real gritty, funky hard rocker with strong riffs and great rhythms.  Lee's generally laid back vocals are more soulful and driven here, as he sings about "seven cities of gold...the stories that fired my imagination.”  The instrumental break allows all three members to stretch. Lifeson does so with a howling guitar solo, Peart with some tricky fills and, of course, Lee with more of that awesome fat and juicy bass work.
The Wreckers
Although the title suggests otherwise, this is one of the poppiest tunes on the record. The guitar is in the jangly vein of U2 and has a kind of mystical feel, with melodic vocal hooks and some lush keyboard/string accompaniment.
Headlong Flight
This is the best song Rush have done since Moving Pictures. It is perfect in just about every way. It's got a strong metal feel and is packed with crunchy guitar riffs. The tune has a driving power to it that fits the title to a T. It really feels like you are with the song's narrator on a journey through the fantasy world of Clockwork Angels. This is progressive hard rock/metal at its very best. "I wish that I could live it all again."
BU2B2
Lasting less than twp minutes, this is an odd musical interlude based off a nervous orchestral string motif. Lyrically, it's a follow-up on the earlier track and has an ominous atmosphere.
Wish Them Well
I absolutely love the crunchy classic rock riff that starts this song and which reoccurs throughout. That riff goes back to the very beginnings of Rush and could have appeared on Fly By Night or Caress of Steel. I love the high-pitched "echo" of Lee's voice that repeats the song title. There's also more of that jangly pop feel on the verses, but it's that awesome hard rock riff that shoots this cut to the top of the line. It's another Rush classic and a great merger of their 70s and more contemporary styles.
The Garden
The epic album ends with this ballad, which features some touches I've never heard before on a Rush album. It's a mixture of acoustic guitar, lush string sounds and piano. Even on this laidback song, there is still an immense layering of different sounds that creates a big atmosphere. The track features a cool Lifeson guitar solo as well.
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