I got into Rush late. ‘Hold Your Fire’ (1987) was the one. It really got me. Time stood still. It’s not considered a classic by aficionados, but that’s a judgement that can only be made in context. I’ve been a fan ever since, though there are times when the band tested my loyalty. The quality of their live albums has been, how you say? Variable?
7 albums later, we get just what this cynical world needs now – another concept album. It’s a sub genre that’s largely monopolised by Progrock bands and is loved (by lovers of the arcane) and hated (by lovers of plain speaking manifestos) in equal measure. It can be cringingly pretentious or totally absorbing (and if we’re really lucky, it informs our worldview).
And even for the cynic, this one lands much closer to the latter than the former. The Clockwork world of the album is a labyrinthine one, articulately imagined by Peart, delineated by his precision cut vocabulary and finely honed lyrical phrasing. Ostensibly the subject is a vehicle for Peart – no stranger to belief-challenging tragedy – to ask questions about religion, existentialism and fatalism, and perhaps – though it’s more of a side issue here – the onrushing tide of technology, but below the surface you could argue that it is polemical, railing against the “American Dream”.
Heavy stuff, and still, after all these years, the music matches. It’s Rush at their best, carving huge, complex, melodicentric art rock edifices into the face of contemporary living, encouraging us to carry on listening and indeed frequently to go back for more. It’s filled with the band’s trippy, technological soundscapes from all ends of the dynamic spectrum. The songs and melodies, robustly constructed, sometimes graphic and swashbuckling (‘Clockwork Angels’ and ‘The Anarchist’), and sometimes contemplative (‘The Garden’ and ‘Wish Them Well‘) are populated with protagonists – the Anarchist, the Pedlar, the titular Angels, and others – who deal with belief and deception, moral decline and redemption.
Essentially, each track is a step on the journey, but as stand alone pieces, probably ‘Carnies’, a neat combination of rising melody and jagged edged hard rock, and ‘The Wreckers’, a seductive, head turning slice of melancholy, rocked up pop are the picks. But not far behind are the biting, brutal ‘BU2B’, and you have to say that the band sound the true, turbocharged, inventive hard rock trio nowhere better than on majestic opener, ‘Caravan’.
‘Clockwork Angels’ is hardly your disposable album then, it needs an investment of time and emotion. But it pays you back bigtime. And that’s the cynic’s reward.
Rated 8 out of 10