Sunday, July 1, 2012

Clockwork Angels - Rush

For Canada Day, so let's discuss the undisputed greatest Canadian band of the hard-rock era, Rush.  Just what you needed, another online review of the new Rush album.  But I have a point to make, I promise.

The fact is, I didn't even plan to buy Clockwork Angels till I read a review by esteemed blogger Tony Howard.  Tony likes the same things in music that I like... it sounded worth a try.  Why my lack of initial interest?  Well, though I consider myself a Rush fan and own most of their albums, I am one of those Rush fans who still idolizes the days of Moving Pictures.  Though I'd given their past few albums cursory listens since the 1990s, to my ears the songs just sounded like... more Rush music.  Rush is certainly a band with their own easily identifiable sound and style, and I understand the growth that's gone into their songwriting since the Bastille Days, but over the past few albums... sorry to say, the songs just didn't jump out and grab me.  Not this time.

On Clockwork Angels Rush have for the first time made an entire album a concept album.  In the past they've only taken that approach with sides of albums, or suites of songs.  I don't want to dwell on the details of the story, for though it is rather colourful and imaginative, it seems to have served a more important function on this album.  Rush have compared themselves to the world's smallest symphonic orchestra, and to my ears it seems as though writing songs as parts of a story serves to tighten the band's focus.  This is, in my opinion, the most cohesive Rush album in decades; the best of their past five or so efforts combined and compiled into one.  It's a fully realized statement of what this band can and perhaps should be.

Clockwork Angels may or may not be a starting point for someone unfamiliar with Rush.  It's a hell of a deep end to dive into, but it's representative of everything they are musically.  Over the past decade, especially with the release of the documentary Rush : Beyond the Lighted Stage, evidence has been given of the respect in which Rush is held by Canadians, and their influence on musicians worldwide.  This album seems to me to be a love letter to Rush fans, a band stripping away furtive experimentation and giving the fans exactly what they've always seen as the best of Rush.

This album is loaded with musical moments that take you back and forward at once.  Parts of songs remind you in a flash of classic Rush moments and riffs, as if they've sampled all their greatest hits and recombined into something new.  Though the production is multi-layered and atmospheric, to convey the many shifting moods of the storyline and scenery, the most arresting moments come when the backing drops out and spotlights shine on the players as a rock three-piece.  The effect is very much as Rush sounds live, and there are times - as in the solo section of "Headlong Flight" - when it almost sounds as if Rush are jamming, an electric surprise from this most meticulous of rock bands.

Of course the musicianship is peerless, with inspired and free-flowing performances from drummer Neil Peart and guitarist Alex Lifeson, but most of all Geddy Lee's bass is MONSTROGLORIOSTRIOUS.  This is easily the rock bass album of a year or a decade, and producer Nick Raskulinecz has captured what may be the nastiest, snarliest, grindingest bass tone ever.

Rush has not yet been inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.  Perhaps because they're Canadian; perhaps because of a lack of respect for progressive rock.  But there is a very short list of musical acts who have produced 20 studio albums over 40 years.  And I would suspect the list of those who can claim their 20th to be among their five best ever is even shorter.

I'm done now.

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