It’s only fitting that Reviews From the Other Side dedicates the week to one of progressive rock’s finest. So, I’ve decided to review and discuss five of Rush’s quintessential albums. At the end of the week, I don’t know, maybe I’ll post a top 10 of something or another. And there’ll be a show review at some point, so stay tuned!
Either way, May 8 started what will most likely be Rush’s last major tour, appropriately titled the R40 tour. 40 years of geeky, inspirational prog, played before millions of air drummers. And then there’ll be me, strumming at my air bass, looking all proud like I’m the only one that notices the bass player. Who am I kidding? Who doesn’t know what Geddy Lee is known for? Well, besides the mouse voice? Okay, no more banter with myself. Let’s kick it off!
5. Clockwork Angels
You’re probably thinking, “Why start with their newest album? Aged bands rarely ever drop average, let alone excellent albums!” Sorry to bust your hypothetical bubble, but 2012’s Clockwork Angels highlights not only Rush’s maturity, but the band’s ability to adapt. Within lies a heavy edge, an opportunity to follow the classic Rush formula, all the while pushing progressive rock and metal to their limit. Speaking of which, I’ve always been mystified by metal’s immortalization of Rush. Yes, they’re heavy — see “BU2B” on Clockwork Angels — and deal with more thought provoking lyrical themes, but the band never exactly emitted the metal attitude in their music. What’s the metal attitude? Well, it’s like obscenity. You’ll know it when you see it. Rush were always more of a hard rock turned progressive rock in lieu of Yes than a prog metal juggernaut. Clockwork Angels, however, changes that opinion drastically. The albums melts faces, pummels chests, and waters eyes all at the same time.
Oh, and Neil Peart’s still got it. Just look at his kit set up for the 2013 Clockwork Angels Tour.
Is that not the definition of nerdy, steam punk badassness?
The band meant business this time around. Clockwork Angels opens with “Caravan,” a prelude of sorts to the concept of the album, courtesy of Neil Peart’s storytelling. I don’t want to get too deep into the concept, but basically the album is a steam punk epic, following a high minded dreamer as he faces perils during his long travels. Kevin J. Anderson adapted the concept into a novel if you’re interested in the full story. “Caravan” does well as an introduction musically, highlighting strings and Geddy Lee’s still impressive vocals.
The musicianship is astonishing for three guys in their 60’s. Alex Lifeson, for example, really comes through during “Carvan[‘s]” instrumental section, in which his guitar distorts an already weird soundscape. Lifeson never really got the respect he deserved. Sure, he’s won awards and is the guitarist of Rush, but talent-wise, he’s overlooked. Hell, Reviews From the Other Side overlooked him in its Top Ten Guitarists list. Here, he comes out and drives the music onward. Geddy provides some interesting bass lines, his fingers still throwing fire across his fret board. The title track, “Seven Cities of Gold,” and “Headlong Flight” feature some of his best bass work.
And Peart, well, just look at that picture again.
After just a few seconds, it’s already apparent that Clockwork Angels suffers from average production. The overall sound is notably compressed, which takes away from the general feel. I’m all for bass being brought forward, but at times, that’s all I can hear. As a three piece, Rush is known for its larger than life sound. Although instrumentally brilliant, the album sounds like three musicians playing together, taking away from their trademark blare.
That’s not to take away from the songwriting, however. There isn’t a dull moment on the record. Pushing and pulling at all the right places, listeners experience epics, hard rockers, power ballads. There’s even a doomy track, “The Wreckers.” Experience can be looked at either as a breath of fresh air or a final exhale. Luckily, Rush’s output on Clockwork Angels feels inspired by their experience rather than held down. The aforementioned track, for example, highlights Peart’s heart wrenching, but reflective lyrics:
All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary of a miracle too good to be true/All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary everything in life you thought you knew/All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary, ’cause sometimes the target is you.
– Neil Peart, “The Wreckers,” Rush
Imagine those lyrics on Fly By Night. Peart, throughout his lyrical career, laid down philosophy, fantasy, science fiction, but when it came to more emotional subjects, his writing bordered on preachy. “The Wreckers” feels honest and relatable, abandoning fantasy for humanity. Also, if Rush had a swansong, “The Garden” fits the bill perfectly with its beautiful message, lyrics, and melody. During the bridge, Alex Lifeson cranks out his own “High Hopes”-esque solo, which leads the album to a tearjerking finish. “The Garden” may even be Rush’s most beautiful ballad, but that’s up to you guys.
So, what separates this album from the rest of Rush’s discography? How is such an averagely produced album ranked higher than, say, Subdivisions, Fly By Night, and A Farewell to Kings? Oh, spoiler alert! Clockwork Angels is a statement, that the band lasts creatively in their post-maturity stage. It embodies progressive rock, throwing convention — you know, the let’s write an acoustic album phase — out the door and embraces its audience wholeheartedly, defying expectations. Maybe their last album, maybe not, but either way it accomplishes what it was made for. And that has to be respected, especially from three guys who have worked creatively together their whole lives.
Disclaimer: All rights, property, and content of the header image belongs to altalamatox on Deviantart. All rights, property and content of the body image belong to Roberta Baker on Flikr. I, in no way, have used said images for profit. Images shrunk for size.