There’s not many albums that have seemed as safe a bet as Clockwork Angels by Rush, but as Prometheus has shown, just because something seems to have all of the right ingredients, that doesn’t mean it will turn out to be tasty. But make no mistake, Clockwork Angels is no Prometheus and it’s very tasty indeed.
It’s been a long time coming, five years since the excellent Snakes And Arrows was released, but even more remarkably, two years since Caravan came out as the first single. That long gap could be taken as a worrying sign, but they spent much of it out on the road before going back into the studio and finishing the album off. And you certainly can’t hear anything that suggests it had a disjointed conception.
Of course, having heard both Caravan and b-side BU2B before (they were also played on the tour), there’s a slightly anticlimactic start to Clockwork Angels as those are the first two tracks on the album, but both are fantastic songs, so it’s only a very slight sense of anticlimax. Caravan in particular is probably already a Rush classic, with its lyrics setting the scene for the album’s plot perfectly while appealing to anyone who ‘can’t stop thinking big’ in a world that makes us feel small.
Ah yes, the plot. This is, after all, an album that will have its own novelisation by Neil Peart and sci-fi writer Kevin J. Anderson. Here’s what it’s about: “In a young man’s quest to follow his dreams, he is caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos. He travels across a lavish and colourful 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.”
So there you go. My opinion of concept albums is that I don’t have a problem with them as long as the concept doesn’t get in the way of how listenable the music is, and by that standard, Clockwork Angels is a success. You can either buy the book, study the lyrics and know what it’s all about, or you can listen to the music, be none the wiser and still enjoy it all. I have to admit that I’m most likely to be in the latter camp.
Caravan and BU2B aren’t the only songs that had been released before the album, with Headlong Flight a more recent single, but the good news there is that it was only an edited version, and what you hear here is even better, more than living up to the energy and drive of its title. It’s one of my early favourites because of the deliriously entertaining guitar solos, but in truth there aren’t any weak tracks on Clockwork Angels.
The title track is another excellent example of Rush letting loose, while The Anarchist, Carnies and The Wreckers are all instantly memorable and thrilling. Peart said while the album was being made that he wanted it to be his ‘highest achievement lyrically and drumming wise’, and he’s certainly hit the mark (so to speak) in the latter sense, because every song is driven along by the pummelling he has given his kit.
It was hard to see Clockwork Angels being a disappointment, particularly as it reunited the band with Snakes And Arrows producer Nick Raskulinecz. Rush might not be the coolest band around, but consistency is an underrated asset in the music world, and they are a band who pretty much always deliver, even this far into their career. And, with this new album, whether you want to read its story or not, they have delivered another classic.
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