Sunday, June 17, 2012

Review: Clockwork Angels by Rush

I've surprised people over the years when they find out that I'm a fan of the Canadian rock band Rush. After all, I'm a hard core jazz guy with a masters in saxophone performance. 90% of everything I listen to is jazz, and 50% of that is Michael Brecker. (I suppose some time I should blog about my favorite musician in the universe, but another time)

So, there's the other 10% that I like. A lot of it is the music of my youth, stuff from the 70s and 80s, with some classical and salsa mixed in. Rush qualifies as music from my youth, but they've held a higher place in my mind mainly because all three members of the band are consummate musicians with intelligence behind their music.

This week, they released their 20th studio album, Clockwork Angels. I've had the opportunity to listen to the whole album twice now, so I'm only barely getting to know it. What I'll share here is mostly first impressions.

For the long-time Rush fan, you won't be disappointed. It is vintage Rush fine tuned with superior experience and musicianship. Sometimes while listening, I felt like it hearkened back to the old days from albums like Caress of Steel and Fly By Night. There seemed to be more of the complex time signatures that were prevalent in their earlier material. As a musician, this makes it fun for me which is why this is one of the few rock groups I still listen to. It seems most rock bands are enslaved to the tyranny of 4/4 meter.

This album also gets back into storytelling and is a concept album. In this day and age of 99 cent downloads from iTunes, people don't look at the whole album any more. To me, this is akin to only listening to one movement of a Beethoven Symphony. The artistry is in the whole work, not in a single part of it. Rush is making an effort to counteract that.

I definitely am enjoying this album. Is it one of my Rush favorites? Probably not, but I'll put it in the middle somewhere for now. Of course, Rush is one of those groups that it takes several listenings to be able to determine more accurately how much you like it. That's a sign to the depth of their music. Where pop music (I accidentally mistyped it as poop music, which is probably more accurate) makes everything obvious so that it can be evaluated in one listening; classical, jazz, and . . . well . . . Rush, have several levels of music that can take years to discern.

Here are my first impressions: too much distorted guitar. I have nothing against it, but I was hoping for a little more variety. Also, when I did a quick read-through of the lyrics, I was confused about the story line. There's a protagonist and a villain, but it didn't seem like a coherent story. Maybe I need to listen to the album while reading the lyrics for it to make more sense. Several of the songs are quite catchy and enjoyable, though. I liked "Caravan" and "Headlong Flight." I also really liked "The Garden" because of the contrast it had with the rest of the album.

The most exciting thing that I'm anticipating is the book that goes along with it. I haven't read it yet, but I got a chance to have dinner with Kevin J. Anderson, the author of it, last month. I was already a fan of his Star Wars books, but when I found out that he was writing a novel to go along with the album of my favorite rock band I have to confess, I geeked out. Kevin told me that he's been good friends with Neil Peart for over 20 years. Something that struck me as interesting was that he said that none of the US publishers wanted to touch this project. They had to go with a Canadian publisher for the book.

Anyway, the album is great. Traditional Rush fans will love it. If you like vintage Rush, you will feel like you've traveled back in time (I'm a fan of their middle-era). And here's some great advice for all artists from the song "Caravan": I can't stop thinking big.

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