Rush stand at a peculiar place within the realms of the classic rock canon. Always at the feistier end of the Prog spectrum, they are probably as popular now (in terms of concert tickets sold) as they were at the peak of their commercial success some thirty years ago. They remain not only a formidable and exhilarating live experience but also one of the few acts of the 70s rock elite whose line-up remains intact. Also, in Geddy Lee, they have one of the most exciting, interesting and influential bassists in popular music; an inspirational, iconic figure, beloved by players the world over.
So how does ‘Clockwork Angels’, their nineteenth studio album, stand up? Does a ‘steam-punk’ concept album work, and, if so, does it reach the high water-mark of ‘2112’ or ‘Moving Pictures’? The answer is… well, not really. It’s not a bad album (it’s no ‘Power Windows’, thank goodness), but when compared with its predecessor, 2007’s blistering ‘Snakes and Arrows’, it falls short. The main problem is that the album is primarily a collection of riffs. Brilliantly played and cleverly arranged, but not particularly memorable ones. There is also a distinct lack of the strong melodies and rollicking choruses that Rush so often excel at. Therefore, although each number is perfectly serviceable in isolation, the album as a whole melds into one overlong, technically accomplished muddle. This situation is compounded further by the ‘turn everything up to eleven’ production approach that dominates many of the tracks, leaving the instruments competing with each other for space.
That’s not to say that the album doesn’t have its plus points. Geddy Lee’s playing is sublime throughout. There are few who can match his ability to create driving, melodic bass parts. The dizzy intro and pirouetting chorus of ‘Headlong Flight’, the pushing counter-melody of ‘The Anarchist’, and the gently plucked sections of ‘The Garden’ are all particularly fine. However, it is only the opening number, ‘Caravan’, and the fabulous, swirling ‘Seven Cities of Gold’ that truly stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the band’s best work.
‘Clockwork Angels’ shows that Rush can still rock out with a sense of majesty and dignity that few bands can muster. If there is no Rush in your CD collection, you’ll enjoy this. If you are a die-hard fan, you’ll love it. If you lie somewhere in-between, you are left with the feeling of having heard them cover this ground before, on better, earlier recordings.
6/10 – by Rush standards. 8/10 – by pretty much everybody else’s.