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Rush - Clockwork Angels CD (album) cover




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3.95 | 1017 ratings

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4 stars If nothing else, this is definitely one of the best albums that will ever be made by a band whose members are all pushing 60. This is the product of a band that knows exactly who it is and embraces that identity with full force; it's an hour long, it's full of multi-part songs, it has a loose conceptual element (that was later adapted into a novelization), and it makes no attempt whatsoever to acknowledge the outside music world (it sticks pretty closely to the approach shown on Snakes and Arrows, which is perfectly fine by me). It's also absolutely top-notch by Rush standards, and as much as I'm flabbergasted at the notion, this has taken its place as my #3 Rush studio album.

I didn't think it would end up this way, though. The opening "Caravan" (released as an advance single), to be honest, still leaves me feeling somewhat disappointed, and I don't think it's a good representative of the album. I mean, it does have strong playing (duh) and decent riffs and contrasting sections and all that, but I feel like it better fits in with the duller first half of Snakes than with the more varied, more interesting second half. Plus, it feels weirdly disjointed in spots to me; there's an instrumental section in the second half of the track that feels like it was wedged in just because the band decided it just wouldn't be ok for the track to last only 4 minutes, and the guitar solo especially sounds like it was grafted in as an afterthought. I will admit, the first time I heard this album, "Caravan" put me in a slightly irritated mood right away, and while I like the track more than I did (again, it would make a decent 4-minute track), I'm still not thrilled with it.

The next two tracks are freaking great, though. "BU2B" (the other lead single) starts with a low-key, hazy, atmospheric part with Geddy singing something almost indiscernable, and this does a good job of amplifying the impact of the heavier parts that follow. The rest of the track features back-and-forth between these heavy verses and a section driven forward by an energetic, exotic-sounding, higher-pitched Lifeson part, and the band spins off ideas from this foundation with great ease. Even better may be the title track, which also makes use of a quiet, unsettling open (this time driven by a nagging processed bassline, kinda like something from "One of These Days") before making a grand anthemic entrance, and the entire track is about creating drama in the same sort of way that "The Main Monkey Business" did. All of the anthemic aspects in the sections starting with "Clockwork Angels..." and ending with " if to fly" feel genuinely earned, largely thanks to their careful alternation with the frantically arranged verses, and all of the instrumental departures (as well as the fairly odd quieter section in the last couple of minutes where Geddy's vocals become distant again) are extremely entertaining. Now this is what I want from Rush!!

The rest of the album isn't mindblowing, but it still hovers closer to the greatness of "BU2B" and the title track than the ehn of "Caravan." My favorite of the remaining tracks is "Seven Cities of Gold," which builds off a great slap-bass riff into a solid main riff that in turn gives way to a catchy-as-hell anthemic secondary melody and chorus. With the other tracks, my initial impression was that they were all somewhat samey and made the album into a bit of an impenetrable mass, but I really don't think that's the case anymore. Maybe individual tracks might often last a little longer than their main ideas might merit, but that doesn't mean the main ideas aren't good, and what's more is that the ideas are different enough that each track manages to carve out a nice role for itself. "The Anarchist" and "Headlong Flight" are "the fast tracks," and what each lacks in a catchy vocal melody is made up for with speedy and effective riffs (the latter also has instrumental parts that may be among the most entertaining Rush ever put to tape). "Carnies" is "the noisy riff track," featuring a cool squealing riff in the beginning that repeatedly gives way to more upbeat parts and featuring some fantastic instrumental parts. "Halo Effect" is "the acoustic-based track" (though it turns fully electric from time to time), a song that reminds me (in vibe, not in melody) of "Half the World" and the In Rio performances of "Resist," and that's a comparison that makes me happy. "The Wreckers" is "the generic Rush anthem," but meant in the good sense; it has one of those overly verbose Rush choruses full of phrases that don't really work when sung, but it's still rather memorable, and there are other enjoyable aspects as well (I'm especially fond of the weirdly murky section in the fourth minute that breaks up the "get yer lighters out" direction the track tries to go in otherwise). "BU2B2" is "the short quiet reprise," "Wish Them Well" is "the memorable track that focuses prepares the album for conclusion" (it doesn't significantly deviate from its main idea, but the idea is decent enough) and finally "The Garden" is "the atmospheric and moving concluding track." Not bad!

I should make it clear that I don't actually love this album; as I said, I find most of the tracks at least a little overlong, and I do inevitably droop during some instrumental breaks (that weren't explicitly mentioned as being great), and I once again don't find myself giving a hoot about the lyrics. And yet, when I think about this album, what I realize is that Rush have finally, after so many years, provided an album where (to my mind and ears) they don't shoot themselves in the foot. The lyrics may not have impact on me, but they don't distract me either. The number of tracks that I want to skip is held to a minimum. The instrumental breaks are awesome with enough frequency for me not to focus much on the ones that are a little stretched out and pointless. The production and instrumental approach are ideal for the band at this point, and so on. If you are not a Rush hater (and while I don't like Rush, I don't hate them either), this album is a necessity.

tarkus1980 | 4/5 |


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