It's been five years since Rush unleashed their SNAKES AND ARROWS release, and to be honest, it's been longer still since they put out a release that was truly great. Like most of their material outside of the 80s, SNAKES AND ARROWS was a little better than competent classic progressive hard rock. For the diehards, always being good but not great leaves them wondering when the next great release will emerge. For those that are just fans in passing (like this guy), the thought of a new release generates very little in the way of expectation.
Yet, what Rush have done this time is creating something that's going to be widely interesting to the average fan and adored by the hardcores. CLOCKWORK ANGELS is a very tight, heavy conceptual opus that could possibly be the very best album this band has done since the middle of their career. I'm not talking PRESTO or HOLD YOUR FIRE either folks...we're talking grand releases like SIGNALS or MOVING PICTURES. Without question, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart have pushed their creative boundaries to the farthest edges with CLOCKWORK ANGELS. Without breaking down the whole concept of things, Rush have captured the very best songwriting they have laid down in 30 years and combined it with their always tight, unquestionable musical skill. Songs like "Caravan" are so much more heavy than anything these guys have been doing for years; specifically Lifeson on guitar. While Lifeson has always been the forgotten man in the band between the unique vocals of Lee and the (arguably) best drummer in the history of Rock with Peart, he's long had a signature sound that balanced out between artistic and powerful. He's noticeably less polished and much more raw and aggressive on CLOCKWORK ANGELS...in the best way possible. Sure, there are songs like "Clockwork Angels" where Lifeson displays his more traditional flavoring to the songs, but these are exceptions more than the rule. Lifeson sound is much thicker and heavier than anything they've done since PRESTO in my eyes.
As for the other two members of the band, what exactly are you going to say? Peart is at worst one of the three top guys ever to play drums; widely regarded by many as the best ever to beat the skins. His undeniable level of skill is on display as it always is throughout CLOCKWORK ANGELS. His progressive meets rock drumming fusion on songs like "Headlong Flight" is a simple showcase of just why everyone from Tommy Lee to Mike Portnoy wishes they were Peart. Like always, it's not that he's playing a zillion beats per second. It's the level of precision and his ability to use his chops to develop each and every song instead of simply driving it like most percussionists do. Lee's bass is thumping throughout; interesting louder and more impactful than on the last handful of albums.
Vocally is where Lee surprises though. While he'll never reach the highest of high notes of the early days anymore, he proves that there's a lot left in the tank (at least studio-wise). While their live album recorded in Cleveland showed a version of Lee who had lost a touch of his range for, at least, that performance, there are no signs of that here. His voice is strong and loud throughout, with higher notes on songs like the aforementioned "Headlong Flight" than he's done in years.
PITRIFF RATING - 96/100 - I'm stunned at how good this really is. By far the most creative album Rush has done in 30 years. Certainly the best recorded sound they've captured as well. Finally, the strongest musical performances this trio of great musicians have put forth in the bulk of my lifetime. For so many rock fans that are 30 years old or less, they probably don't quite understand why so many have regarded Rush as an elite band. CLOCKWORK ANGELS could be the album that makes them get it. If nothing else, CLOCKWORK ANGELS once again brings shame on the Rock N' Roll Hall Of Fame. For them to be able to leave this band outside while welcoming far lesser talents like the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Guns N' Roses just proves how truly clueless the concept of greatness is to the curator and decision makers at that over-glorified Hard Rock Cafe. CLOCKWORK ANGELS is the kind of work legends do.