Album of the Week 23-2012: Rush – Clockwork Angels

Over the course of their last few albums, the mighty riff has regained its territory within the music of Rush. As much as I appreciate the Canadian Prog giants for their fearless experimentalism, the Rush I like will always remain the riff-heavy late seventies, early eighties Rush. Let’s say ‘2112’ to ‘Permanent Waves’. However, the current era of the band isn’t too shabby either. Personally, I loved the earthy Rock tones of 2002’s ‘Vapor Trails’ and the latest addition to the canon, ‘Clockwork Angels’, may even be the best Rush album since ‘Moving Pictures’. Possibly even since ‘Permanent Waves’.

There’s a reason I referred to the riffs: there’s a lot of them that at least partially make the songs so awesome on the record. The huge seventies Hardrock riff on ‘BU2B’, the modern Rock riff on ‘Carnies’, the powerful chords in the title track… It seems like Alex Lifeson had something to mention. However, the first thing I noticed specifically is Geddy Lee’s masterful bass playing. He’s always been one of the world’s best bassists, but he’s all over this album with great fills and a killer sound to boot.

Style-wise, there’s a little something of almost every incarnation of Rush on here. There aren’t enough synthesizers to justify a comparison to the mid-eighties and the borderline Metal of seventies is far behind them, though the main riff to the amazing ‘Headlong Flight’ bares some similarities to the classic ‘Anthem’. It’s the closest they’ve come to their seventies sound in a long time. It sounds like the band is so comfortable doing what they do these days, that they don’t really mind what style it fits. The band rocks with ease, but also throws in some more atmospheric parts when you least expect them as if it doesn’t take any effort. The title track for instance, which is built upon three vastly different themes – one laid-back, though not quite ballad part, one stomping Hardrock riff and the celestial chorus part – that go together seamlessly. Mind you, Rush is still a progressive band!

Other highlights include the chillingly beautiful closing ballad ‘The Garden’, brilliantly orchestrated – yes, there’s a string section on a couple of the album’s tracks – and especially featuring a breathtakingly wonderful vocal performance by Lee. It’s also the logical conclusion to the concept drummer Neil Peart has written for the album, both musically and lyrically. Opening track ‘Caravan’ is an amazing Progrock song, from the powerful opening riff to the blissful chorus. ‘The Anarchist’  is a musical journey not unlike the ones on ‘Permanent Waves’ and ‘Carnies’ rocks hard.

Sonically, this is a top notch record. Producer Nick Raskulinecz and the band have put down a warm, real sound that especially Peart’s drums profit from. His snare sound is among the best I’ve ever heard. All the instruments have the space they need and nothing overpowers anything else. Take note, anyone who needs to take care of a bass sound!

What other recommendations would you need from me? Maybe I need to point out Hugh Syme’s incredible artwork – wait ’til you see the actual booklet! – as well? If you’re a fan of progressive, open-minded Rock music with expert musicianship, you don’t have to look any further than ‘Clockwork Angels’, Rush’s best album in over 30 years.

Recommended tracks: ‘Headlong Flight’, ‘The Garden’, ‘Caravan’

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