a thing of the past, how many more opportunities would I have to pluck a new Rush album from a record store shelf? Realistically, not too many, but I unselfishly left that honor to the Little One, who, just days away from being 10 months old, was on my hip as I entered Waterloo Records. I let her pick out a copy (with some encouragement) and she carried it for me to the checkout. Considering the smugly aloof experience I had with the Waterloo staff last year when I bought the new Yes album, I was wondering what kind of reaction I might get when she plopped Clockwork Angels on the checkout counter. This time, I escaped without incident, but I heard snippits of discussion between a group of staff members from across the aisles of the store:
“The new Rush is out…….”
“Neapolitan ice cream?”
“You’re out of control!”
There was a perceptibly snarky undertone to this exchange, but I didn’t really care. Rush showed up at a crucial time in my musical and social development, and the unified persona of artistic excellence and ambition that the Geddy, Alex, and Neil strove for as a unit served as a role model for me. They have been, as I stated at the beginning of this project, “my” band ever since. Nothing that the hipster crew could do or say would ever be able to dislodge that.
Like most fans, I was already somewhat familiar with Clockwork Angels. The first two tracks were released as digital “singles” over a year ago and were also included in the setlist of last year’s Time Machine tour. The rest of the album was written and recorded while the band was engaged in this tour, which is a unique setting for Rush’s recent compositional process. For several decades, the material on their albums was written as the band was coming off a break and preparing for a tour, and Lee once lamented that their albums did not always capture the song's live rendering. Because it was recorded while the band was actively touring, however, I think Clockwork Angels more accurately captures Rush’s trademark live energy.
Unlike many fans, however, I resisted the temptation to examine these tracks too closely. As a single, Caravan, with its twisting time changes and exploratory structure, seemed a bit confounding, but as the lead track to Rush’s first concept album, it’s an explosive opening statement. Arguably, all of Rush’s albums are conceptual, but not since the long-form songs of the 70s has the band tackled the idea of a story with character development and a climax, and they never did so in the full-album format. Peart is in his wheelhouse when he can employ a story as a vehicle, too, especially one with the descriptive richness of Clockwork Angels' steampunk-inspired imagery.
As usual on Tuesday, I later went to the dojo. I make no secret of my Rush zealotry amongst my fellow aikido practitioners, and before I had my shoes off, a person asked if I had heard the local radio promo that Waterloo Records had released for “new music Tuesday.” The spot posited that if Rush in the 70s was vanilla, and 80s Rush was chocolate, and in the 90s they were strawberry, then the new album was "Neapolitan ice cream." The cryptic secret explained!
As flippant as this description is, in a superficial way it’s pretty fair. Rush’s recent predilection for mining their own repertoire as a repository for inspiration is more pronounced than ever, and is skillfully navigated on Clockwork Angels. The incendiary, muscular riffing of 2112 and Caress of Steel coexists with the focused, driving intensity of Signals, unified under the melodic emphasis and consistency of Counterparts. Even more exciting than watching these flavors bleed together is the comeback of the instrumental excursion. In the past, these gave Rush’s songs a sense of exploration and return, and that is excitingly recaptured on Clockwork Angels.
Longtime Rush fans are usually prepared for some sort of reinvention of the band when a new album is released. Clockwork Angels, however, musically encapsulates the bands history in a way that embraces, rather than challenges, their identity. It sounds like Rush at their most memorable, which, at this stage in their career, seems to be an artistically gratifying path, not to mention a strategically smart one. Fans that have felt disconnected from some of Rush's more stylistically
jarring experiments in recent decades can jump back on board, while new
fans don't have to understand their entire career to get where they are
trying to say.
There is, of course, the danger of empty nostalgia in a situation like
this, and there is, admittedly, a nostalgic aspect to the album, but it
creates a tone of familiarity for the band's further progression. In fact, although Clockwork Angels would be a shining end to Rush's long, engaging career, its exuberance makes me confident that "my" band still has outstanding work ahead of them.
To see the previous post in this series, click here.
To start over at the beginning, click here.