Clockwork Angels… a Listener’s Response

I’ve not been quiet about my affinity for Rush, and like I mentioned here I planned to spin the hell out of it since I had two 9+ hour drives in store for me not long after it came out. I picked it up on release day, and had to fight hard to not rip the plastic off and pop it into a CD player. With a daily commute of less than five miles, though, I know that would be an aggravating way to make it through a first listen, not to mention it would short-change the “first listening experience.” 

On the one hand, I’m glad I waited. Clockwork Angels is definitely best experienced (the first time through) in one full listen. For those not familiar, it’s a style of concept album that’s different for Rush. As opposed to The Who’s Tommy, Green Day’s American Idiot, or even Rush’s own 2112 (main track) where each piece sonically bleeds into the next, with Angels each track, while connected by a thematic narrative story, stands alone as independent songs. The closest comparison I can make is the libretto for a stage musical.

Here we are, three months removed from its release so lets talk about the tracks.

# 1 – Caravan: Originally released as a single in advance of the Time Machine Tour a few years ago, the track was reworked a little – not rerecorded, just having the balance/mixing tweaked. The original felt a bit heavier, but the album version allows more articulation for Geddy’s bass work to be heard, and the lyrics come through better instead of bleeding into the music at points.

# 2 – BU2B: The other early track from the TMT, they added a softer opening few bars before breaking into the hard stuff. Personally, while enjoyed the sonic slap with the original release, adding the new intro works better within the context of the album.

# 3 – Clockwork Angels: The first completely new track when I first listened… I was struck by the suggested imagery, I felt for a moment like I was experiencing the sequence in Robots when we first get to Robot City, some of Neil’s cymbal work in the softer sections gave that steampunky train feel.

# 4 – The Anarchist: Driving rock beat that can be expected. Alex does some interesting riffs and accents that, if you want to push references, almost sound like snippets of of past songs, then take a slightly different twist.

# 5 – Carnies: Heavier opening, then scales back for sections of the opening lyric before continuing with the beat. Mid song, there’s a moment that Alex’s guitar work reminds me of hints of the riffsfrom Red Barchetta. The ending is one that I can see working eaily in a concert.

# 6 – Halo Effect: Still a hard undercurrent, but subtler in the orchestration around the lyrics. This is one that has becoma a favorite track. The stylistic approach reminds me a little of Nobody’s Hero or The Way the Wind Blows.

# 7 – Seven Cities of Gold: Another stand out for me from the album. It grabbed me the same way that Vapor Trails (the track) did when I first heard it, playful instumentation for the introduction then into the core of the song with a sequence later of Alex being Alex.

# 8 – The Wreckers: Lighter key then several of the other tracks with a brighter sound, but one of the heavier sets of lyrics. Another one that is a favorite from the album. It evokes a same emotional response as Nobody’s Hero.

# 9 – Headlong Flight: I will admit, I was nervous when I first heard the track. As much as it rocks, I wasn’t won over by the track itself. After hearing it in the context of the entire album, it made better sense. Extra brownie points: there’s an instrumental break in there that echoed the vibe from By-tor and hte Snow Dog.

# 10 – BU2B2: A short, filler track that harkens back to the previous (#2)with a much softer instumentation (much like the opening sequence from before). Nothing overly remarkable by itself, but thematically works to smooth the transition from the high energy of Headlong Flight.

# 11 – Wish Them Well: More of the same rock that one would expect.

# 12 – The Garden: Most of the song has a softer feeling like Resist, and it’s not until late that there’s any significant guitar flourish (which, by key, harkens back to moments from Spirit of Radio), but it’s a mellow song when compared to others on the album.

Considering the story arc that is supposed to be in place, the sequencing makes sense. After reading the snippets from the liner notes, by the time the last track arrived I hadthe impression of an old man looking back over his life, maybe telling stories to the grandkids. It worked, for me. I’m also interested to see how the story plays out in the novelization.

So, that’s the deal. I’ve enjoyed it.

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