Clockwork Angels has been a long time coming. Rush foreshadowed it in 2010 by releasing "BU2B," and "Caravan" to radio. The next single, "Headlong Flight," didn't appear until 2012. Co-produced with Nick Raskulinecz (who also worked on 2007's Snakes & Arrows), Clockwork Angels is a return to the concept album by the band that perfected it on 2112 in 1976. It centers on a loose narrative about a young man following his dreams. He struggles with inner and outer forces of order and chaos; he encounters an expansive world where colors, images, territories, and characters are embodied by pirates, strange carnivals, rabble-rousing anarchists, and lost cities. His enemy is the Watchmaker, a ruthless authoritarian presence who attempts to rule the universe and all aspects of everyday life with fascistic precision. Neil Peart's lyrics embrace notions of alchemy and steampunk sci-fi in his thematics. (The album is due to be novelized by Peart and sci-fi author Kevin J. Anderson.) Musically, Rush step up the prog from Snakes & Arrows without losing the blistering riffs or hooks. Alex Lifeson's acoustic guitars have an established place here, but his electric axes roar over them throughout. Geddy Lee's bass is mixed further up-front than it has been in some time -- which makes his mind-blowing chops resound: there are amazing pizzicatos interspersed in driving hard rock fills and edgy, off-kilter funk riffs. His voice is more nuanced and more emotionally expressive. Peart's drumming is the catalyst: his technical mastery makes his playing sound purely instinctive. CA is full of dynamic surprises, wild rhythmic variations, and expansive textures. This set sprawls, embracing everything from metal and prog to electric jazz to flamenco touches -- and more. Varied musical shades jostle up against one another, keeping the listener not only engaged, but delightfully surprised. "BU2B" and "Caravan" are slightly different than their single incarnations -- more was added and for the better. There are nods to the band's past in the blistering intro to "Seven Cities of Gold" and the snarling rampage in "The Anarchist." Lifeson breathes fire on both. The title track is nearly a concept album by itself. It contains a grand Townshend-esque overture, punishing twists and turns, bluesy acoustic interludes, and a grand finish. "Halo Effect" is destined to be among the band's classic power ballads with a dramatic middle and end. The album's seven-minute tour de force, "Headlong Flight," careens across musical genres with ceaseless intensity. "Wish Them Well" is an anthemic hard-edged pop song, while closer "The Garden" is an intricate seven-minute ballad with numerous odd angles and labyrinthine sonic corridors. Ultimately, Clockwork Angels demonstrates why, after 36 years, Rush's fan base continues to grow. Its musical athleticism and calisthenic discipline are equaled only by its relentless creative drive and its will to express it in a distinct musical language.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek