Rush - Clockwork Angels
On 12/6/12, "Rush's" 19th and final studio album, "Clockwork Angels", was released.
In a completely "clockwise" way, the album includes 12 tracks that probably symbolize the 12 hours of the clock that appears on the album cover. The album was also released on the 12th of June 2012.
The sharp-eyed among you must have noticed that the time the clock shows on the album cover is 9:12, that is 21:12, a kind of wink of the band to its masterful album "2112" from 1976. And indeed there is a lot of connection between these two albums, not only in terms of writing and musical style, But mainly in terms of content.
You can learn about the great resemblance to "2112" from a glance at the lyrics on the inside cover of the album, and even before we heard one note from it. Each of the twelve poems opens with a short introduction designed to introduce the listener to the atmosphere of the story and complete, along with the lyrics, the whole plot.
We mentioned "content", so "Clockwork Angels" is a full concept album, from beginning to end, that tells a futuristic story about the world of "steam-punk" (Steampunk is a science fiction sub-genre that deals with a world where gasoline and diesel, digital and electronics technologies have not evolved. A world of steam engines and analog equipment), and about a young boy - Owen Hardy embarking on a self-searching journey in the Steampunk world full of anarchists, angels, pirates, carnival jugglers, researchers and watchmakers, a boy who always felt so small in his world but never stopped thinking big time!
And this is exactly how the plot story of "Clockwork Angels" begins, when in the lyrics of the song "Caravan" that opens the album Owen explains: "In a world where I feel so small I can not stop thinking big".
It is worth mentioning that "Clockwork Angels" was recorded in two parts. The first two songs on the album, "Caravan" and "BU2B" were recorded in 2010 and were included in the setlist of the "Time Machine" tour held in 2010-2011. After the tour ended, the band entered the studio to complete the recording of the album and during those recordings, these two songs were given a slightly different version from the one released before the album.
The entire album was born from jam sessions by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson who recorded the music in Toronto and sent it to Neil Peart who attached lyrics to it. This is the first time that the band's album includes an accompaniment of strings and more precisely six violins and two cellos. These strings will also accompany the band during the tour to promote the album, when for the first time in the band's history, additional artists will take the stage with them - a string ensemble that includes 10 musicians.
"Caravan" opens with a short intro and is immediately followed by the entry of a tight guitar-bass riff and sharp and precise drumming, and from the very first note, the listener understands why Rush is considered one of the best Power-Trios of all time. This is Owen's starting point - the boy, on his quest in the caravan, from the small village where Barrel Arbor grew up, towards the big city of Crown City.
The second track is called "BU2B" - an acronym for the words "Brought Up to Believe" which also opens the song. The song opens with an acoustic guitar intro in a soft and delicate fingering that blends in with Geddy Lee's whispering sounds. As the acoustic opening fades the song bursts into life with relentless hyperactivity and Geddy's voice sounds loud, even angry, in the opposite way to his soft whispers in the intro. The song does not lose momentum for a moment mainly thanks to Lifeson's guitar playing. In the song, Owen tells how he is educated to believe that the universe has a plan for every person, and how a person's fate is exactly what he deserves without the ability to change. This is the world of the "watchmaker" a world that is run as accurately as a clock, full of stereotypes that everyone has their role and purpose.
The theme song "Clockwork Angels" comes right after. Over 7 and a half minutes of music and yet, there is not a single poor moment in this song. The plot tells of the legendary angels of "Kronos Square" located in the center of the big city square, the place Owen heard about in the stories and to which he always aspired to reach. Gaddy Lee's vocals here at their best, Alex Lifeson's beautiful guitar work and the fluid solo with the blues touches, are among his powerful ones and the professor (Neil Peart)'s brilliant drumming work, all make this song one of the album's climaxes.
The fourth track on the album "The Anarchist" opens with an energetic instrumental track - thunderous and rolling drums by Peart, a loud and "grunge" guitar riff" by Lifeson, and a wild bass by Geddy Lee, which drives all this experienced and oiled machine. The song makes our first acquaintance with the "anarchist" who tries to disrupt any form of order in the accurate world of the "watchmakers" as the lyrics tell: "I Plan My Vengeance On My Own - and I Was always Alone…"
The fifth track - "Carnies" is a song in a real carnival atmosphere (Carni refers to a carnival show). Owen finds work with traveling carnival people and gets to be near his favorite Kronos Square, where the carnival is located. During the show, Owen notices an anarchist holding a suspicious object connected with wires to an analog clock. He shouts to warn the crowd and the anarchist throws the object at Owen, who grabs it instinctively in front of the angry crowd. The song features excellent guitar work by Lifeson, especially the solo. Listen well to the song because in fact there are three separate layers of guitar in there. One will emerge from the right speaker, the other will be heard in the left ear and the third in the center.
"Hallo Effect" brings with it a quiet and melodic pause that highlights Geddy Lee's singing and Lifeson's stunning acoustic work, in a way that amplifies the painful nature of the lyrics. In the plot Owen falls in love with one of the acrobatics at the carnival, only to realize that she does not suit him.
Beautifully timed, the seventh song on the album is "Seven Cities of Gold". A song with a blues-rock scent, yet still groovy and bouncy, featuring one of Rush's most catchy chants. The song is steeped in sweeping and stunning string work, which adds an "epic" tone to the song. The lyrics tell of the continuation of Owen's journey where he starts to work on a steam-powered ship in search of the famous golden city "CA-bola", he heard about as a child.
The eighth song "The Wreckers" tells the story of the pirates and the raid and sinking of the steamer on which Owen finds himself as the last survivor of that raid. Despite the sad lyrical message of the song, the music here is relatively happy and uplifting. Geddy Lee's singing on this one is a prime example of the dynamics of his voice and it proves that he may no longer have the "super-sonic" abilities he had a few decades ago, but still makes up for it well with a respectable vocal range that goes up and down the vocal scale. It is interesting to note that this song was written while exchanging roles of Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson who decided to cross out musical instruments.
The ninth track "Headlong Flight" is the third single from the album, released two months before the album. The song was born during Geddy and Alex's Jam session at Geddy's house during the break between the two parts of the "Time Machine" tour. The song features elements from the song "Bastille Day" from the album "Caress Of Steel" dating back to 1975. In terms of the plot, the song takes place in the future, when Owen recalls his adventures during his self-quest and includes the phrase: "I wish I could live it all again". This sentence served as the inspiration for the whole concept of the band's last tour R40, in which the band chose to play songs from all over their long career, in a reverse chronological order, a kind of going back in time to relive everything.
The tenth track - "BU2B2" is the melancholy and gloomy second part of the second song on of the album "BU2B". The song corresponds well with the acoustic introduction that opens the first part - "BU2B". Geddy Lee's singing is gentle and emotional and it is accompanied only by strings. If we mentioned influences from "2112", so the depressing nature of the words is reminiscent of the sixth part from "2112" called "Soliloquy", also where the hero of the story remains in almost complete despair, similar to the one in our story. The song is a kind of monologue by Owen (just like in "2112") and his disillusionment with the world and the society in which he lives in. No more boundless optimism, no more belief in greater powers, too much pain, too much grief, too much disappointment ... and in the lyrics of the song itself: "Belief Has Failed Me Now, Life Goes From Bad to Worse. No Philosophy Consoles Me, In a Clockwork Universe…". It's interesting that" BU2B2 "is the shortest song on the album, only a minute and 28 seconds, but still it has four verses.
"Wish Them Well," tells us about Owen's refusal to succumb to his despair and understanding that it is not appropriate to continue living his life with anger and resentment towards all those who harmed him, but to stay away from them and wish them all the best ... Geddy's singing was recorded here in several layers, in each one he sings in a higher octave.
The song that seals the album "The Garden", is among the most beautiful "Rush" has written during its more than 40 years of activity. Surprisingly, this is actually the first song the band wrote for the album. The end of Owen's journey and the discovery that the true search of his life was in fact love and respect for him and others. The song tells about a metaphorical garden that needs to be nurtured, which includes all of a person’s actions and behavior, with the treasures of that garden being love and honor.
Final words - Epilogue
The album "Clockwork Angels" is a masterpiece of a band that was indeed at the end of its creative period, but undoubtedly proved that it is at its peak, both in terms of writing ability and performance. This is indeed Rush's "Swan Song" as a band, and it's hard to imagine a better way for Geddy, Alex, and Neil to end their careers as a band.
At the end of the tour that accompanied the album "Clockwork Angels", Peart expressed to his friends his desire to retire from live performances. The load on the body of a peart who was then 60 years old was enormous. The band's performances lasted over 3 hours which included complex and massive drumming, an intense and long drum solo, and sometimes even two, so he feared that this would impair his level of playing.
Alex and Geddy had one last request - to go on one last grandiose tour. Alex mentioned in detail the arthritis he suffers from, which may also affect his playing, and begged for one last round. Peart finally agreed but for a limited tour in the US only.
The R40 tour included songs from all eras, with the band returning in a reverse chronologically in time, from the album "Clockwork Angels" to the first album and eve to a 16-bars excerpt from the song "Garden Road" that the band recorded before the release of their debut album.
During the show, the whole stage setting change and also go back in time, with stage workers spinning throughout the show, assembling and disassembling amplifiers and instruments to suit the spirit of the period of the song being played. At the end of the show, the set includes only two guitar/bass amplifiers on chairs with microphones aimed at them, just like at the beginning of the band's journey, in the basements of Willowdale, Ontario, Canada ...
One of the setlist's songs was a one the band had never performed before - "Losing It" from the album "Signals" of 1982. A very touching song that moves us to tears. The song tells the story of artists who were at their peak and suddenly "lose it".
Very sadly, thinking of the album cover and the “watch” idea behind is just chilling. When the wondrous trio descended from the stage of the Forum Hall in Los Angeles on August 1, 2015, Neil's clock began to tick back...