Wednesday, January 9, 2013

5. Rush Clockwork Angels

Rush - Clockwork Angels
Canada...Our neighbor to the north that seems just a little too polite and somehow ends up being the butt end of jokes made in pop culture, from South Park’s rousing ‘Blame Canada’ from the Bigger, Longer, Uncut movie, to music that just seems to try but ultimately getting it wrong somehow.  This brings up images of 80’s pop singers such as Anne Murray and Bryan Adams.  I pause while you add your own jokes or defenses here.  

Regardless of how you view Canada, there is no denying that arguably one of the most musically affluent progressive rock bands of the 20th and 21st centuries hail from the Great White North as well.  Yes, boys and Girls, I’m speaking of Rush. 
I have never been anything more than a casual observer of Rush.  Usually I could take them or leave them, and in most cases I’d leave them.  Of course, there are legendary hits that no party would be complete without, for instance Tom Sawyer, Limelight, Fly By Night or Stick It Out. 

My dealings with Rush in my younger years were simply the songs above until my college roommate brought a copy of Rush’s Chronicles album back to school after his birthday.  From there, began an obsession lasting months on end of nothing but Rush.  His infatuation with Rush was the same as my own with Metallica so despite under breath grumblings from time to time, I ignored them as I found Geddy Lee’s voice to be whiney and harsh.  Something happened during those months though.  I started to pay attention and notice the absolute musicianship that Lee on bass, Alex Lifeson on Guitar and Neal Peart on drums possessed.  It was jaw droppingly beautiful at times while at others just good time rock and roll.  While I don’t celebrate the band’s entire catalogue, I took some new favorites from those marathon listening sessions. 

Still, time has gone by and Rush has never made the top of any of my lists.  2008’s release of Snakes and Arrows found a younger sounding band that, dare I say, was HEAVY!.  When I learned that Rush was recording a new album, I thought of two things.  1 was that friends who loved this band were sure to be excited, and 2. I hope the actual recording is better than the previous effort.  Rush, while being a musically proficient band, have suffered over the years with flawed recordings with Snakes and Arrows being the example I give as a casualty of the “loudness wars” plaguing music today, causing distortion and clipping. 

I decided to not complain about it and let artists do what artists do an I decided to put on my hat of professional critic AFTER the album was released.  A few weeks before the album was released, I heard the leadoff track of ‘Headlong Flight’.  It was clear and crisp as much of Rush’s music was, but it was heavy and angry and for Rush this is not the norm.  I liked it immediately and began to look forward to the release of the album.  There were rumors that this was going to be a concept album in the spirit of 2112.  When I saw the artwork and saw a red clock made of clouds and symbols with hands pointing at 9:12 (21:12 ), I took notice. 

Take notice please:  I LIKE THIS ALBUM FROM BEGINNING TO END!!!  This is not a sentiment I have had for a Rush album in the past.  The songs are epic in length, specifically Headlong Flight and the title track, Clockwork Angels.  They sound like a younger, hungrier band, who are making music for the love of music rather than just making music for the paycheck.  This is important no matter what type of music you are making.

The album is the first concept album since 1976’s 2112.  The lyrics, created by Neal Peart, chronicle a young man’s quest across a lavish and colorful world of steampunk and alchemy as he attempts to follow his dreams.  Geddy’s vocals have matured over the years and have made him one of the more distinctive voices in rock and roll.  The overall music fits his voice perfectly.  The imagery is descriptive and is some of the best writing that I have heard from this band or any other prog-rock band in recent years, with only the possible exception of the stellar Mars Volta, who come in at number 10 on my list this year. 

This album is a gem in any collection of a true appreciator who likes music for the sake of it being creative and musical.  There are elements to enjoy in every track, and not a single track would require the listener to skip ahead.  Check this one out.  You won’t be sorry

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