Hard to believe how fresh these guys are able to sound 38 years after their first album.
I had not great expectations about this one. Based on the two previous studio albums, I just awaited another "Rush by numbers" work. I mean: powerful, hard hitting and masterfully executed, but not especially inspired.. I liked Snakes and Arrows a bit more than Vapor Trails, but somehow the spirit of old Rush' golden era (let's say the one that flew over A Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres, Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures) seemed to be forever gone.
A digression here : Vapor Trails, especially, is a quite tiresome album to me. It stays a bit to much in the low frequency sonic spectre: too much bass guitar, to much bass drum, and too much guitar power chords, not properly equilibrated by other sonic and musical ingredients, which makes it a hard task to listen to it, from beginning to end, without taking a break. Snakes and Arrows, while walking the same sonic territory as V.T., was more varied and dynamic, and I found it more enjoyable. Not bad albums to my taste, but not exciting enough.
Clockwork Angels, however, is gifted with a different nature. It is tremendously fresh, vital and captivating, and makes me recall the best years of the band. Yes, Rush look younger than yesterday, playing with enthusiasm a set of convincing songs. Nothing to do with (like someone could fear), a tired old group. There are no fillers in this album. It is a concept album equipped with its proper organic quality. From the beginnig, the listener is propelled by an exciting, dynamic music, feeling the need to know how the story goes.
As I said it is a concept album, based on a sci-fi story. There is a "perfectly organized" world where people are instilled to not to think by themselves and to be content with their destiny ( Planet Earth, year whatever, I guess) . The album tells the adventures and reflections of an inconformist young man during his quest for truth.
Compared to previous albums, I find that Neil Peart's drums playing is a bit more restrained, and that the drums are not so loud in the mix . Just a matter of nuances; don't worry, Neil Peart is still there and you can hear and enjoy his playing .
Geddy Lee's voice is in good form, and maturity has made him gain expresiveness. The bass sounds hugely powerful but very defined and clear too.
Lifeson `s guitar makes also a quite restrained job (at least not prodigal in solos), but the instrument has a killer full tone, and the playing is very expressive and piercing when strictly necessary.
The whole album sounds clear and well defined even at a low volume (a quality that was not shared by Vapor Trails and Snakes and Arrows).
1. Caravan - Is Rush in pure and best form. Intricate rhythms, guitar riffs, catchy chorus (" I can't stop thinking big ") A
statement of purposes. It ends with a beautiful reflective passage a la Pink Floyd, where acoustic and electric guitar
with tremolo effect take command.
2. Bu2B - Another classic Rush tour the force rocker propelled by mighty drums. "We were taught that we lived in the best of
all possible worlds".
3. Clockwork angels - Rush trademark intricate, fierce ternary tempo. Wonderful guitar solo.
The pedlar 1 - Short instrumental integrated at the end of Clockwork angels. Old (and all) time Rush.
4. The anarchist - Another powerful rocker, where the rebel anarchist character is introduced. Strings and guitar solo with
a northern africa/arab flavour (a la Page&Plant).
5. Carnies - The rock goes on. The young man's fate changes since his encounter with the anarchist.
6. Halo effect - A nice ballad about following false illusions. Beautifuly sung by Lee. Short enough (3:14) so the
trepidant pace of the album is not left for too long.
7. Seven cities of gold - Another uptempo heavy rocker with catchy chorus. High pitched Lee's vocals recalling older works.
8. The wreckers - It begins with an openly pop a la Byrds intro, rapidly changing into a minor key melody. This could be a
rather "radio friendly"song, despite its serious, sour matter: "All I know is that sometimes the truth is
contrary/everything in life you thought you knew". All along the song there is a constant contrast between the a-la Byrds
and dramatic character passages, so the result is melodically varied and appealing.
9. Headlong Flight - A killer epic, vaguely reminiscent of Iron Maiden. Our hero declares he would not change anything he did
("I learned to fight, to love, to feel")
10. Bu2B2 - Short mature bittersweet reflections by Lee & strings only.
11. Wish them well - This is the most pop oriented song in the album, almost in a Paul McCartney's style (no joke) , except
for another piercing solo by Lifeson. It makes sense considering the positive message: the benefit of not keeping anger
and grudges in our hearts
12. The garden - Masterful slow tempo with another positive, mature declaration of principles: "The measure of a life is a
measure of love and respect / ... / A garden to nurture and protect". Strings intro, acoustic guitars, and, from the
4:30, a beautiful, emotive crescendo that soars high for a perfect album's end.